Monday, February 25, 2008

Advice to little children, and why my writing will live forever

1. Writing a play was an interesting experience that got me thinking a lot about how to express ideas through the words of my characters. The dialogue-based nature of the play allowed me to cut straight to characterization, plot, and theme, without worrying about the tone of narration or elaborate sentence structure. This makes it more concise and direct than most things I write, and it was easier to spill out onto a page than a formal essay. I certainly felt the limitations of the stage as I was writing, however, and I had to keep resisting the urge to make my setup really complicated. It turned out well, I think, but sometimes it felt like I was battling against the format rather than embracing it. I really enjoyed being able to speak through my characters, and I've learned some things about dialogue that I can apply to other forms of writing.

2. My advice to a child (at whatever age he/she could first appreciate good advice) is to always question your assumptions. Whenever I'm wrong about something, it's because I'm assuming the wrong things and making bad conclusions based on it. If you realize what you're taking for granted, you can get a much better perspective on things. I can especially see this with respect to politics (though that's not something that the advice-receiving kid should worry his little head about). When I first started thinking about political stuff, I had automatic assumptions about what is "good" and what's "bad," and this made me wonder why politics was so controversial--the answers seemed so obvious. And they're really not. Half of my political views have been completely reversed since then. So when forming a philosophy about life, it's important that you don't make too many assumptions about what you want or don't want, and that you think about the way you're thinking.

3. The longevity of literary works is something I've been wondering about, actually. I think the works that last are the ones whose messages are powerful enough to be applied to any time period, not just the one they are written in. Les Mis doesn't only speak to revolutionary France, for example, and 1984's message applies equally well to 1985 or 2020. This brings up the question of which of today's literature is going to survive as long as these other works. Nowadays, when a book is popular, it's because of a flashy advertising campaign (cough eragon cough), or because it gains a pop culture fan base (like Harry Potter), and neither of these things last more than ten years or so. Lots of great things are being written, but they're usually focused on the modern era and play off of hype from current events, so it's uncertain whether their messages can last. That said, my writing will live forever--as long as I write it on stone tablets and bury it for a future civilization to dig up. I'll be famous, it'll just take thousands of years for the fame to sink in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Three More Questions

1. All of the "great" literature I've read in my classes is built mostly or totally around expressing themes. It seems to be the defining characteristic of what's considered great. Lots of books (like Harry Potter, Eragon, etc.) achieve wild popularity just by creating interesting characters and situations, but they don't go into history as "classics." The reality thus seems to be that my writing should have a thematic message in order to be considered good writing, since otherwise it lacks insight into life. On the other hand, language-arts classes have convinced me that themes can be inferred from absolutely any piece of writing, even if the author didn't intend it. So it might be a good idea to just write something imaginative and then weave the theme in as I go.

2. I'd enjoy writing a play about social norms and how they got the way they are. The people who break such norms are usually the most interesting, but society is entirely structured around those who follow them. It would also be interesting to examine how government tries to incorporate every person into its (usually narrow-minded) systems and doesn't trust anything that it doesn't explicitly authorize. Both of these topics revolve around the concepts of freedom and control, and the ideas behind each, which I think would make for very thought-provoking play.

3. The main conflict in my play would most likely be fought between individuals and society, with the law taking the side of society as a whole. I'd probably create a fictional society with norms very different from ours, so that I can put them in perspective properly. The protagonist would probably get into trouble for doing socially unusual things, and would then have to convince people that his/her weirdness isn't putting anybody in danger. Those are just random thoughts, but I think there's some potential work of literature in there...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Reading, Writing, and some other stuff

1. I see reading as a way to subconsciously ingrain in my mind what good writing is. When I reread something I've written, I either think "oh, that sounds good," or "yuck, I'm changing that." I judge this mainly based on intuition, but it also helps to imagine myself reading my writing in someone else's book. If I saw my sentences in my everyday reading, would I think it was good or bad? Being able to visualize this means I have to have lots of reading experience to draw on.
In addition, the goodness of writing ends up being determined largely by how people respond to it (there's no objective judge, after all). So you can look at what people consider "good" (by reading), and adopt these traits into your own writing.

2. Whenever I'm really concerned about something in the world, the root cause of it always seems to be some kind of brainwashing of people. When I see elementary-school teachers indoctrinating innocent little children, for example, or advertisements using subliminal messaging rather than telling you anything about their products, I feel that the nature of truth is being warped beyond repair. If "good" and "bad" are forced upon everyone from devious outside sources looking to obtain money or political support, then every person's mind becomes a function of what those devious outside sources want them to think. And then our humanity goes out the window, because no one can make good judgements. This is why I get worried when I hear "It takes a village to raise a child" --if the community raises everyone, then the result is a village full of zombie clones. Hoorah.

3. I once saw a piece of "modern art" that consisted of nothing more than a blank canvas on a wall. This inspired me to try and figure out why in the world anybody could consider it to be art. I can look over at the white wall behind my computer and see a similar picture (and there are even some stains and cracks to liven up the image). I'm all in favor of simplicity in art, but it gets completely ridiculous if artists take it to this extreme. Anyone whose sense of beauty is inspired by this piece would probably collapse from sensory overload if they walked outside. This kind of art does succeed, however, in blurring the line between art and not-art. And it inspired me to write an entire paragraph about it, which I guess is an accomplishment.