This is not Part 3. It’s just two things I thought of tacking on to part 2.
What can I say? Part 2s are easy blog post fodder; Part 2 appendixes are even easier.
One, there’s one other wall I run into often during those rare attempts when I get motivated enough to try to write a story: naming characters is hard. At least, it provides an excellent motivational roadblock whenever I even consider committing a story to paper, a point before I’ve actually written anything at which I think “maybe I should give up and go on Facebook instead” and proceed to do so. Aggh. And I think there’s more than one reason for this:
I have trouble coming up with names to some degree. Sure, it’s easy to browse BabyNames.com and look for choices, but a lot of the names there are really weird and contemplating them for every unimportant character kind of rips me out of the immersed mindset.
Reading great stories in English class and elsewhere may have gotten me feeling like every name ought to be a deep meaningful allusion, or at least pun fodder. I feel like I will regret it if I write a story and, a few months and/or chapters down the road, realize I missed a better name or the name I chose has some undesirable connotations in context or provides an atmosphere-ruining coincidence.
But I think the real kicker is simply that some part of me is terrified of the awkwardness of giving a character the same name as anybody I know, because then they might read the story and wonder if the character is somehow based on them. And too many of the names that I consider common enough to not lure readers off into looking for hidden meanings are used up that way. This is obviously worst if the character is an antagonist. But it seems just as awkward if the character is a protagonist in accord with everything I’ve written, i.e. a paper-thin character blatantly created for escapist purposes. I am already kind of terrified I might ever meet anybody with the same name as one of my mentally established characters even though I haven’t actually written anything about him. And there’s a well-established convention of not reusing a first name in a work, so this gets even harder with every work; I’m just as worried, what if somebody thinks this character is related to the other character in that story I wrote in second grade? Oh no!!
It’s like not reusing variable names in a programming language where everything is in the same scope. Positively nightmarish.
And I actually discovered some evidence this is a thing in my past: I found some stories I wrote in 2004. They are possibly the most extreme exemplification of Write What You Know imaginable: the main character, Michael, goes to school and makes friends. That’s all.
I kind of want to share these stories, but fast-forward a few years and you’ll see that a classmate named Michael entered my grade and we stayed in the same grade until we graduated.
Hi, Michael. You’re probably not reading this, but the character I created in 2004 is not in any way based on or inspired by you, especially not this image. And unlike later in this post where I name a character after myself, I’m not being sarcastic, really.
Okay, I think I’m figuring this out. When I make a filler post for the streak, it should be an unabashed filler post, so I can accumulate some of the blogging time I find each day to work on a serious post (and for doing the other important stuff I should be doing!) instead of wasting it right away.
Life. I’m programming something for Dad involving a parser using Jison, and one of the tasks involved stuffing a custom lexer into the parser.
If you came to this blog or this post hoping to read English, sorry not sorry. It’s only fair, really, given how many people on Facebook can’t read the massive English textwall posts I’ve spammed them with for so long.
I blogged about this before in 2013 — how I felt that the analysis trained into me by English class was dulling my ability to appreciate and write the types of fiction I really enjoyed. After thinking about it I realized the mismatch goes deeper than that. Because the things I seek the most in fiction are escapism and entertainment. I like simple fiction with obvious (though maybe not that obvious) Aesops and extreme economy of characters via making all the reveals being of the form “X and Y are the same person” (which does not quite seem to be a trope but may be an occurrence of Connected All Along, with the most famous subtrope being Luke, I Am Your Father (which is a misquote!), and is also one common Stock Epileptic Tree, so maybe this isn’t the best example), because not only are such reveals fun, they make the plot simpler. What can I say, it works.
The qualities of being thought-provoking or heartwarming are only bonuses for me; needless complexity in the number of characters or plots is a strict negative. Sorry, I don’t want to spend effort trying to remember which person is which and how a hundred different storylines relate to each other if they don’t build to a convincing, cohesive, and awesomeReveal, and often not even then. And I like closure, so I feel pretty miserable when writers resolve a long-awaited plot point just to add a bunch more. Because of this I am ambivalent about long book series; most of my favorite works of fiction have come in long series but starting a new one always gives me Commitment Anxiety. Even when there’s closure, when I finish an immersive movie or book I’m always left kind of disoriented, like I’ve just been lifted out of a deep pool and have to readjust to breathing and seeing the world from the perspective of a normal person on land. I like when I’m reading good fiction, but I don’t like going through withdrawal symptoms. If I want to read complicated open-ended events, I’ll go read a history textbook, because at least the trivia might come up useful some day; if I want tough problems I’ll just look at real life and think about the possibility of college debt and having to find a job and everything. (If it wasn’t obvious yet, this is why I hyperbolically hate on Game of Thrones often.) Even worse than all of this is multiple paragraphs full of scenery and nothing else, unless of course parts or maybe all of the scenery are Chekhov’s Guns.
Some part of me is embarrassed to admit this because I’ve been educated for so long about deep literature that makes social commentary or reveals an inner evil of humanity or whatever. But then again, I don’t really need an education to appreciate the simple, fun fiction I apparently do.
So: there are a lot of famous classics or mainstream works I can’t really enjoy too much, or in some cases, at all. And yet, sometimes a random story or webcomic will appear and I just won’t be able to stop reading. Why? I decided to try making a list of things I like in fiction:
“I like fantasy books! I used to read a lot of Eoin Colfer.”
“What does that mean, used to? You don’t read anymore? That’s so sa-a-a-ad…”
Our teacher and I had this conversation during our first English class, and I realized I agreed with her. Well, no, of course I still read: news articles, r/AskReddit threads, and the books we get assigned in class. But not fiction, almost. As I later mentioned to my teacher, I followed Sam Hughes’ Ra avidly (something I highly recommend). That was it.
What does my present self still think of Eoin Colfer? Although I adored the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger, my interest faded, but not before I had recommended it to my sister. The conversation spurred me to get out the seventh Artemis Fowl book, which I had stopped reading halfway through a year ago, and finish it. It was still true that I didn’t like it as much, because I couldn’t feel the high stakes strongly in the book and I found that the joking asides compounded the problem. But a few days later, when we took a trip to the Taipei library, I found the eighth book and borrowed it, plowing through nine-tenths of the book before we left. The ending seemed to be happy but still felt counterintuitively poignant for me. In any case, I had closure.
So what’s the lesson? Authors vary in output too. I was naïve to suppose that because I found this book boring, I had outgrown all books that were even vaguely similar. In the same trip, I also borrowed a bunch of other random fantasy books, plus a realistic fiction book about a teenage pregnancy, just for kicks. It turned out to be surprisingly good. In a week, I read four books, cover to cover, despite a typical load of homework and chemo.
Any excuses I made before about not having enough time simply don’t hold water. Still, I have yet to figure out if this sort of reading is sustainable, because not every book is so engrossing. Far from it…
Note: My 2012 self wrote this. It’s a bit dated, but it’s okay, and also is of historical interest for featuring me explaining the CSS I learned from English class.
Every time I notice that I have hoarded a large number of strange assignments and essays from another school year of work I get all guilty. First there’s the knowledge about ancient Chinese dynasties and plant hormones that I only have shadows of recollections of, which makes me wonder whether all the time and effort invested by teachers, classmates, and myself have gone wasted.
I know, though, that given that I still sense these shadows, it shouldn’t be difficult to look up and relearn this stuff if I ever need to do so. This brings me to the non-factual parts of the learning, such as writing skills with all its variations. There’s persuasive writing, which I don’t use much because I can’t usually even persuade myself to take a side in anything, let alone others. There’s descriptive writing mode, which I don’t use much because the most vividly describable things I encounter are food, and the shallowness of piling flowery adjectives together to talk about food just makes me cringe nowadays. Previously, I wrote at least two such compositions in sixth grade. Blech.
Note: I wrote this in 2012. Maybe it’s kind of amusing?
For some reason, everybody around here seems to think that adding English characters, no matter how broken or meaningless, confers an added sense of quality or superiority. I don’t really understand the mindset here but it’s the only explanation I can come up with. It’s certainly not to make the lives of our English-speaking population any easier.
We were sharing songs in Chinese class with literary techniques, and there were a bunch of songs, including mine, by this pretty famous singer with the stage name Fish Leong. Okay, it’s kind of cute and it’s a translated homophonic Cantonese pun, so it makes some sense, although I wonder what people would think the name meant if mentioned without any context. There was this more obscure guy a couple seasons back in the reality TV singing competition (see, no original shows around here) whose name was Quack. smacks head It’s also kind of cute if you only know that the word is the sound a duck makes, which probably holds for most of the audience. But still, it takes just five seconds to put it into Wikipedia. Oops?
So, as triggered by my confrontation with the Chinese book report (remember? whatever the answer is, it’s okay): a reflection on my incompetence at dealing with two languages, and why this matters, or not.
I can think in both languages. It’s a natural product of our school environment. The two languages often have to complement each other; most of the nerdy terms or globally relevant allusions are English-exclusive (I couldn’t talk coherently about SOPA in any language other than English!), but a lot of cultural and geographical staples around here are Chinese only. And sometimes there are unexpected holes where an innocuous-looking phrase simply has a few too many connotations to translate perfectly (the example I always get stuck on, and have yet to solve satisfactorily with anything short of a full sentence recasting, is “appreciate”.)