Writing Fiction for the First Time in Over a Decade, pt. 4

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about how well people actually read subtlety.

For example, back in the day (90s) I read an article on the most popular wedding songs. I’ve forgotten most of the list, but the top two were One by U2 and Every Breath You Take by The Police. Let’s look at some snippets of their lyrics starting with One.

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

Wait, is this a love song?

You say love is a temple, love a higher law
Love is a temple, love the higher law
You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holdin’ on to what you got
When all you got is hurt

The answer is no, Bono has stated that the song is about his complicated relationship to his father. Sure, the word ‘love’ is mentioned several times in the song, but if you pay even a little attention, the kind of love portrayed in the song is not the kind you want from your marriage.

How about Every Breath You Take.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.

Okay, kind of creepy, but love, I guess… but this should clear it all up:

Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace.
I dream at night, I can only see your face.
I look around but it’s you I can’t replace.
I feel so cold, and I long for your embrace.
I keep crying baby, baby, please…

Yes, ita about obsessing over a lost love. Creepy obsession, even if Sting didn’t think of it quite that way as he was writing it.

These are not the kinds of songs you want for you wedding. At least I would think. Sure, they are good songs, but they are not about romantic love. And yet, people just request them. Anyway, if these world famous artists can’t get these simple messages through, what chances do I have? I guess I’ll just have to rely on Mike Stoklasa’s (as Mister Plinkett) wisdom of “you might not have noticed, but your brain did”.

Warning: Mathematics. Skip to the next header if you want to avoid.

Here’s another example of this phenomenon I stumbled on just a few days ago: Most of you are probably aware of base 2 numbers, better known as binaries, in which numbers are represented by only 0s and 1s rather than the usual digits of 0 through 9 (the decimal system). I was (fairly randomly) asked to explain why decimal 2 is 110 in base -2 (or negabinary), if you use base -2 instead of base 2. I could not wrap my head around why this is, but then it turned out that I was looking at it the wrong way, because when I tried to do the conversion from negabinary to decimal, it clicked immediately. I just wasn’t trying to do that for the longest time, as I was just trying to figure how to get 2 into becoming 110.

For those interested, here’s why:

Converting from binary to decimal works this way: Each digit that is 1 is the same as the base (in this case 2) powered to the digits after it. So, for example 11 in binary equals 2^1 + 2^0 = 2 + 1 = 3 (yes, if you are not mathematically inclined, anything other than 0 powered to 0 is always 1 – 0^0 is an open question). If you are doing to the conversion to the other direction, you figure out what is the highest power of 2 that goes into the number, which in this case would be 2^1, which equals 10 in binary, and then you subtract that decimal number from the original number, meaning 3-2 = 1 and then you repeat until 0 remains, which gives us (in this case) 11.

So, the same goes for negabinary, except that it gets a little weird, because you have to know a trick to be able to do this. If 2 is 110 in negabinary, converting from the negabinary looks like this:

-2^2 + -2^1 = 4+(-2) = 2.

So you just have to know that if the highest power of 2 that would go into the decimal number is odd, you need to start one power higher. Otherwise doing this won’t do anything.

Not that it really matters. As far as I know, there isn’t a real application for these metheds. While there apparently was an attempt to make certain calculations easier by using these numbers, it didn’t turn out that way, so it was just an interesting problem for me.

The point being that I was looking at this from the wrong perspective and just a simple change fixed it, but how can I know, as the author, when I’m leading the reader into this situation?

Heroine’s Journey

I guess everyone who is into writing or myths or basically anything story related is aware of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey represented in his book Hero With Thousand Faces (or something like that). I read the book back in the day and even as someone who has read plenty of academic texts, it was boring as fuck. Still, the basic idea presented in the book is somewhat interesting. Its a template you can write your story with. The problem, which I didn’t even think about while reading it, is (at least) two-fold: Its highly misogynistic and it claims that every story should fit into this specific mold. I had thought of it as a template, not the template, but Campbell would disagree with this notion.

So, according to this video by Maggie May Fish (well, its a two-parter and I forget where everything is, but I would assume this particular titbit is in the latter one: Campbell taught in a women’s college, even with his misogynistic tendencies, and one day, his student asked whether she could be the hero. Campbell offered that she could be the mother for a hero. Well, that student was not happy with the answer and wrote her own book: The Heroine’s Journey.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I do have it here, so I am going to read in the near future (which is probably not as near as one would hope, because I mostly get to read things not related to my work only during the summer, but maybe I can squeeze it into my Christmas break). However, I did find peruse through the book to find the basic template presented here. Note that I haven’t read any of what the template is based on at this point.

But the differences between the two types of stories are quickly obvious. I guess the main things are that hero gets to go on a quest, while the heroine is forced onto this path, and the hero’s journey is very personal, while the heroine’s journey is about her links to her community and how she loses them before having to rebuild them. Finally, while the hero wins glory, he finds it hollow, the heroine finds that there is no glory in whatever she was doing, because she is again a part of a community, which is what she needed or wanted all along.

Book Length

The miminum length for a novel is usually seen as somewhere between 40k and 50k words (in English, which uses roughly 40% more words than my native language of Finnish). However, when talking fantasy, novels are often 70k to 100k and this is an expectation. I wonder how much this has to do with the length of Lord of the Rings?

From my point of view, this is kind of absurd. I like to have lean books. If you can tell the story you want in less words, why not do it? For me this is also practical: I like to be able to read books I feel I can finish in a sensible amount of time (before something forces me away from it) and I like to have books I can easily carry with me, so that I can read them wherever. Obviously, me needs should not overcede the needs of the art or the story, but I am not sure this self-enforced lower limit on the length is good for the genre. If readers expect this length, publishers won’t let shorter books to be released, which forces the writers to pad their text or, worse, they all emphasize quantity over quality, which is not going to be good for anyone in the long run.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.