Part 1 was here. This is still part of the daily posting streak I have openly committed to and standard disclaimers still apply. Just as in my original post, back to the flip side — let’s see what I have to do to write fiction to my own satisfaction. And this time I have a guide: the list I made in the first part of this post. Could I create fiction I would enjoy reading?
1: I enjoy calling things before they happen…
2: …I also enjoy the Reveal for questions when the author has done something clever I didn’t catch…
Well, obviously, I can’t predict things in my own plot. But I can develop riddles in the plot, set up expectations and drop subtle clues and use Chekhov’s Tropes. Can I?
I’m going to do it again! I’m going to break a post into parts to milk it for the daily posting streak. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This is mostly a self-analysis post though.
WARNING: This post contains many, many TVTropes links. If you are like me and need to be productive but are liable to being sucked into TVTropes, maybe you should find a way to commit to not clicking on any of these links, or just stop reading. The obligatory xkcd is kind of long and also featured on one of the TVTropes links I’ve already made, so I’m not going to embed it.
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 awesome Reveal, 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:
A PSYCHOLOGICAL TIP
Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
— Piet Hein
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.
(By the way, apparently spinning a penny is a terrible randomization process; studies have shown they come up tails 80% of the time. Tossing or flipping is better but there’s still a faintly biased 51% chance it lands with the same face it started with (PDF link). Entirely irrelevantly, is the meter amphibrachic? Nice. I’m sorry, but the impenetrable English names they give to metrical feet just sound so cool.)
As May 1 has been coming up, I’ve been half-seriously giving this advice to others who still haven’t decided. But I knew this wouldn’t work for me. I knew where I intuitively wanted to go all along.
The reasons holding me back were more… reasonable. Mostly the money. Call it an id-superego conflict.
I don’t know if the difference between my choices would mean I’d have to take out loans, or work a lot during college, or both. I don’t think either of those things would be difficult. I think tech internships over the summer could just cover the parts assigned to parental contribution (which I’m not going to let my parents pay, unless they start earning a lot more money than expected) and I think I have the skills to get those internships. But of course that’s a tradeoff. Maybe there will be something more self-actualizing or more helpful to my future career that I could do during the summer. I’m not so sure that I’ll find the same drive to program for a job instead of for a personal project I really want to use myself, or for putting off something more boring. I don’t know yet.
(Get it? Drive? Program? Um, never mind, I guess that’s a hardware problem.)
This post, or most of it, was published password-protected once because… well, I explain that below. (To the one person who actually bothered asking me for the password, just so you know, I did add and rewrite parts. More than a few.) I forgot how distinctly powerful a disincentive a large 2300-word block of text is to the average person, especially when the subject of half of those 2300 words is teenage angst (I’ve already linked to xkcd 1370 in enough places so I’m not even going to embed it here) interweaved with an insufferable amount of rationalist jargon. This will probably filter my readership more than sufficiently already.
I have still decided to protect one detail of the thought process, though. But even after that, I guess I do care more about how many people read this than I do for most of my other posts, so here’s a primitive attempt to gauge interest; if you choose anything beyond the first choice, I would also appreciate if you leave a comment, even if you don’t think you have anything to add:
I haven’t posted for a long period again, but I don’t feel too bad about it.
Well, until I look carefully at my blog draft folder and remember that I have 90%-finished drafts about the two debate competitions I went to (November 2013 and March 2014), and winning the previous Mystery Hunt (January 2014), and my summer trip to Penghu (July 2013). Which will probably never get posted out of awkwardness.
But I’ve been busy, completely righteously busy, with college apps to write and algorithm classes to teach and speeches to write and a math club to sort-of lead and all the typical homework besides.
And then (for those of you who don’t have me as a friend on Facebook) I got accepted to MIT and Caltech early.
And for a few days after that, I checked Facebook about sixteen times a day for the Class of 2019 group discussion, except for one day when I really needed not to, thanks to the power of committing to my HabitRPG party to do something. I am increasingly learning that procrastination is something that has to be actively and strategically fought. But that’s not what this post is about.
“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…
Isn’t it weird to suddenly talk about this topic?
I don’t think that I have ever talked about music any more than briefly in passing. It might be confusing to my finger quotes audience, and I worry I’ll seem inconsistent.
Well, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. If you wonder, “I didn’t know that you sang and played the piano, or you liked music in that way — or, at all…” please note that I didn’t know either.
Note: My 2012 self wrote this. It is a little dated and does not entirely capture my current beliefs and attitudes, although I have to say it’s not too far off either. As of 2018, Me and Facebook is more relevant.
Here’s a guilty secret: I like getting feedback.
I’m not restricting myself to painstakingly thoughtful comments that attempt to build upon and transform the post to form an interesting conversation, the kind English teachers are hellbent on promoting. Sure, I get the most kicks out of those, but I’m not picky. Even single-digit pageview bars or a handful of Facebook “like”s give me buzzes of excitement.
It’s a guilty feeling, because I also think that that these are unimaginably cheap internet currencies and should not qualify as “meaningful” under a rational mindset. I strongly suspect visitors accidentally click on my blog and leave after five seconds without taking in anything, because I do that all the time to other people’s blogs and sites. Sometimes it is out of boredom, sometimes it is because I actually have something of higher priority to do than indiscriminate reading, sometimes it is simply because I cannot read the language. I’ve seen plenty of people like posts on Facebook based on the poster, only occasionally taking into consideration the first word of the post in question, before actually reading them.
Yes, the proliferation of “liking” on Facebook bothers me. I don’t expect everybody to reply meaningfully to everything when they just want to express approval lightly. However, when I see that tiny minority of people handing them out to people in their own threads like programs at a concert, I become indignant. Under their influence, what was originally a straightforward, meaningful badge of appreciation becomes a handwavy gesture that carries virtually no weight, and then I don’t know what to do when I see something I like seriously. Will clicking that button still express the feeling strongly enough?
I accept that, in our stressful world, a few instant effortless gags that take ten seconds to fully process and approve deserve a place. Nevertheless, the number of people who seem to want to make the “like” a completely passive and automatic action is almost physically painful:
Some bloggers have a regular schedule for posting and forcing themselves to meet the deadlines. In essence, something like “updates every Thursday.”
For me, I think this is a bad idea, because it forces me to write. If my day is boring and uneventful as it quite often is and I still have to crank out a post, it would not be a post that readers would enjoy. Better once-a-month enthusiastic, interesting posts then an ugly stream of tedious drudgery for the visitor to wade through every time, stuff like (quoting one random ancient post):
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”.)
Note: My 2011 self wrote this. It is selectively preserved for historical interest and amusement from a lot of similar, chronologically nearby posts. I am not as angsty any more.
I don’t know where to start.
First there was a headache. No biggie, sleep it off. But it’s easy to lose yourself
The pain, the random gusts of nausea, confusion, irritation… it’s another person in this body, speaking a foreign language I can’t even begin to fathom
playing by his own rules, won’t let you figure them out. his kingdom, and there’s not even a way to surrender or take the path of least resistance. Every path looks the same from here
blackness, vagueness, shadows, defying all interpretations