Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Importance of Self-Reliance

The first time Bill Shatner appeared on The Twilight Zone was in this episode where he and his new bride are on the road in Ohio when their car breaks down.  While waiting for the car to be fixed, they go to this diner that has these little devil-shaped napkin dispensers that for a penny spit out a fortune.  After a couple of these fortunes seem to come true, Shatner's character becomes obsessed with the thing until his wife finally pulls him out of there to live their own lives again.  As soon as they leave, another couple comes in who have become completely enslaved to the fortune telling napkin dispenser.

In writing critique groups there are quite a few people who seem to be like the latter couple; they seem completely unable to make decisions on their own.  This post about "medieval research" is a good illustration:
1. What sort of surnames should I give them? C is a Princess and S is a Lady.

2. As C is a Princess and S a Lady, will they even be able to see each other? Usually princesses have duties to attend to and things like that (and the same goes for the Lady), so how will I fit this into the story?

3. At what age were women in those days supposed to marry at? I'm not planning to write a romance!

4. Were princesses and ladies even literate?

5. I'm making a fictional town in England. What sort of name should I give it?

6. Also, referencing back to question 2, what kind of duties do they have?
It seems so lazy.  You can't even go on Wikipedia for ten minutes to research some of this?  You can't Google medieval surnames?  Nah, random Internet people spoon feed me some answers.

Even better, here's another one:
I am trying to write a character who moved from Las Vegas to the mountains in western North Carolina. I'd like her to have some kind of experience with casinos, either as an employee or patron, or maybe just someone who knows general stuff about casinos but eschews patronizing them herself. Any information about casinos would be much appreciated. I've been to a Harrah's casino once with friends and we played the slots, but I don't feel that gives me enough experience and information to properly flesh out this character.
I can't look up casino stuff on the Internet or even turn on Ocean's 11 or the literally hundreds of other movies about casinos.  Nah, tell me...stuff about casinos.  What stuff?  I dunno, stuff.  Whatever.  I mean, come on, you should at least know whether your character worked at a casino or not.  Narrow it down a little for Pete's sake.  Throw me a fricking bone here!

Another one this person couldn't figure out how to interrupt a conversation.  Really?  There are literally dozens of ways you can break up a conversation on the street.  Here's a list I threw together in a couple of minutes.
They're outside so there's any number of things that can happen: Purse snatcher, someone's dog gets loose (or just a stray dog or other animal), a flasher, a drunk, some acquaintance shows up, reverend of their church walks by, soldiers march past, and so on.
It's the 18th Century but I think most of those can still work.  Instead of listening to me this moron gets blathering with some other newb who can only think of a medical thing, it rains, or a horse gets loose.  Well I can't do those because...so don't!  I just gave you a bunch of things that aren't that!  It's really not as hard as you're making it seem!

But more to the point, people like this seem like they can't make any decisions on their own.  What should I name them?  How can I fit stuff into my story?  What are casinos?  How can I interrupt a conversation?  Maybe you should try to figure it out for yourself.  It is supposed to be YOUR story.  If I'm making all the calls for you then it's MY story, not yours.  Or if you're crowd-sourcing everything then it's still not your story; it's everyone else's but yours.

One good thing about being over 40 is I didn't use the Internet until I was graduating high school.  So I'd already been writing stories for about five years.  They weren't good stories necessarily, but it still helped me gain some self-reliance.  If I wanted to ask people about what to name characters or whatever, I'd have needed to do it in person.  Nowadays with this new-fangled Internet it's so easy to ask people to make decisions that these newbies don't learn to rely on themselves.  And gods forbid you tell them to that because then you're a mean ol' bully.

But if you don't learn to rely on yourself for answers you're like that couple in the Twilight Zone who have to keep asking the fortune teller machine to tell them what to do.  In the end your story should be your story, not Bob's story or Fred's story or Grumpy Bulldog's or whoever else's.  Learn to sink or swim on your own and only use writing groups as a last resort.

And for fuck's sake, learn to Google!


  1. another irritating thing about groups on the internet is that when people ask some stupid question that they could have put in an internet search and found the answer in three seconds, but instead they write some ridiculous post and then you call them on it they get all pissy "what's the point of this group then?" "I know I could do my own search, but i wanted a conversation" ugh...no...you were lazy and stupid... :(

    totally agree, probably because i'm old(er) lol, but I would never ask people on the internet to name my characters...that's how you end up with boaty mcboatface and shit like that. do your own research, name your own characters, write about your experiences, and if you don't have experiences...get off your ass and get out of the house lol

  2. Who knows (psychologically) what's going on with the people in these groups. Some (or many) might have mental illness. Anxiety, depression, and narcissism are common enough traits that I run into them every day. When these swirl together among artists, you can end up with a kind of learned helplessness.

  3. You keep reminding me of why I don't do critique groups anymore. People in those groups tend to be looking for a magic formula and they pick at everything.



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