Monday, October 30, 2023

Review: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller is a method book for writing stories. Truby teaches screenplay writing, and you can smell that in the text, but the book is meant to apply to any medium. (And he uses films, novels, and plays as examples.) However, Truby makes a distinction: he is not going to talk about what constitutes a story in general, he is going to talk about what constitutes a "great" story (3). That is his aim: to show what makes for a "great" story, and how to get there.

How he does this, how he gives a method to making "great" stories, what makes his book interesting, is he is trying to generate a method to write organic stories as opposed to mechanical stories. Mechanical stories, stories created by mechanical means, and most stories are mechanical stories; mechanical stories, because of their nature, tend to be "episodic," "hopelessly generic, formulaic," and "devoid of originality." Organic stories, however, are "not a machine but a living body that develops," with "characters and plot that grow naturally out of your original story idea" (4-5). They are internally as opposed to externally logical (84). In part, with mechanical stories he is talking about ideas like writing out of three- and five-act structure, and such methods as (though he does not say it directly) Save the Cat. (Or so I presume. I have not read Save the Cat, but what I have seen about it makes it sound mechanical and formulaic, not to mention a lot easier. And it must be recognized that his method predates that book.)

How Truby works his organic method is by starting small, from the inside, and working out. He begins with writing a premise then moves out through ten steps that include finding a design principle for the story, finding what challenges and problems exist at the start, what moral argument is being made, and finding who would be the logical main character. He did not start at the beginning of a plot structure, but with general ideas about the future text. He is trying to get you to grow the story, not mechanically lay it out like so many lengths of railroad track. Creating characters is not merely creating a list, it is creating a character web, where characters relate to each other and have influence on each other. When you generate the story world you are creating it out of the premise and what comes from the premise, not merely inserting characters into a pre-fab world. The approach is very interesting in what it is trying to accomplish.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

10 Albums I Listen to the Most

So the Vinyl Community on YouTube has a thread running — started by Chris on the Long Cut — that is the ten albums that they listen to the most. Not the ten favorite, not the ten best, and many comment on how they found it interesting that once they had a list it was not entirely their favorites or what they consider the best. I find these videos fascinating, have watched a number, and have already bought four albums based on the videos I have seen. (A little coincidence, as I found three of them at my favorite used store, but still.) I wanted to play along, but I do not have a YouTube channel so it's to the website. Nor do I have a vinyl collection, these are all CDs. I'm not sure if, in the end, that makes a difference as some people in the videos do fall back on CDs. Not everything can be had on vinyl, and the spirit of the game is really in what you listen to, not what you listen to it on. The only difference it will make is I will not much talk about the albums in terms of sides.

At first I held back because I thought it would be far too difficult an exercise. My CDs are in books (long ago I ran out of room to keep them in their cases), and, generally, if I open a book, I'll browse back and forth through it before I open another. So my listening habits are not jumping from book to book looking for specific albums. Plus, there is no way my poor memory would permit an exercise that went back too many years. But once I had a workable set of parameters, things suddenly became easy. Those parameters:

The albums listed will be:
(1) albums that, in browsing back and I forth, I always hit;
(2) albums that tend to get stuck in the CD player;
(3) limiting myself to the last three to five years.
People in the thread have to decide for themselves whether they will list ten most all time, or ten most in the last few years. I went with the latter.

With those parameters in hand I sat back and in no time had a list of six that I knew fit the mold. Then a sit down with my CDs and the list swelled to twenty-one; though, I knew I was intentionally being loose. It didn't take very much thought after that to have it ten. And once had, five — maybe six — of them I knew would probably be in the list were I to survey all of the last thirty years. I go back to them over and again. The other five — maybe four — are more time sensitive, either because I have only owned them the last couple of years, or if I go back in time there would be a different one by the same artist that would have been hogging the player.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

An Engagement with Strunk and White's "Approach to Style"

So, style.

Strunk and White passed by me a couple of times recently, the second time in a situation that prompted me to re-read the thing with the want to again be familiar enough with it to give comment upon it. It is a book that probably gained its fame for there being nothing like it when it was first published (I do not know, but I would bet). And, there are things in it that are worth hearing for a writer if they had never heard them before. Lists like the "Words and Expressions Commonly Misused" are always worth going through, wherever you find them. If I have one comment on Strunk and White's list, it is that you should notice that when they give examples, sometimes their improvement/correction changes the meaning of the sentence. Actually, this throughout the book. To the other side, though, as a grammar book, it is wholly inadequate, and there is no excuse with someone who has reason to care for not owning a Chicago Manual of Style or an MLA Handbook, one or the other.

My biggest issue – even more than with the grammar – is with the final section, "An Approach to Style," written entirely by White. I disagree with him on the majority of his pieces of advice, either specifically to the point or with how he approaches it. I think the value of what he presents is limited to practical writing (and even then, at times, I have questions). When you move to creative writing, to making things out of words, suddenly his "Approach to Style" is, like the grammar section, greatly inadequate, if not at times out and out bad advice. Enough so I thought I would give my hand at writing a response. In a great part, my want to write this was to see if I could, and if I were being paid I might do some things differently. Though, there is also hope that I am presenting things worth thinking about, particularly in that I am approaching this entirely through the subject of creative writing, which feels at times almost secondary to White's aims. In that, his "advice" seems worth the revisiting. (To note, if you want to just have a browse, the most important entries are probably 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, and 16.)

To make it easy on me, White begins with nonsense, straight up:

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Analytical Thought and Myth: An Exploration of the Eternal Masculine and Eternal Feminine

This is a redacted version of a conversation on Facebook that I decided to pull out and make a post of. Much of the editing is to take out the other persons leaving only simple prompts, and, of course, to make it sound like a post rather than a Facebook conversation. Though, I have edited and expanded the main body as well.


As regards the idea of the eternal masculine and eternal feminine:


My reading about alchemy, which cannot be separated from Jung, so my readings in Jung, and philosophers like Cassirer either influenced by Jung or of the same mind; and though maybe not explicitly but inherently in Nietzsche and Derrida and the like . . . . . . for my education, as it were, every time I contemplate the idea of "God" to any serious degree I am confronted with the thought "it only makes sense if there are two: the eternal masculine and the eternal feminine," and it doesn't really make sense to try to combine them in a way that eliminates the idea of the difference. Although, then, as the Greeks pointed out in the protogenoi, you really need three: Ananke, Chronos, and Eros between them. That idea also central to alchemy. Any private debate or contemplation on the idea of a god leads me there: the feminine, the masculine, and desire that unifies them and is the means through which they "create," to choose a word.


So you are saying God is a duality not a "unity"?


Hmm. Is that what I am saying (he asks both the asker and himself)?

In answering I first want to take a step backwards. We can look at the universe two ways. The first way is the scientific way, the logical, rational way, and that I call the "universe." But humans are not solely rational creatures, they also have an unconscious. (Indeed, the rational conscious is a part of the irrational unconscious, but that's another discussion.) Thus, we can also look at the universe in a way that includes the unconscious. I am not saying that the universe has an unconscious – that is a mystical statement that might serve a purpose in a given context but not particularly here – but saying, simply, a person has an unconscious, and a person can engage the world in a way that includes the unconscious. The universe seen through the mind including the unconscious I call the "cosmos." (I am neither unique nor clever in making these terminological choices.) As the irrational unconscious + (its included) rational conscious is the totality of the mind, so also then is the "cosmos" the totality of being. Again, the important point is not to say the cosmos has an unconscious, it is to say that people have an unconscious, and to look at the universe through the full self must include that unconscious, in turn creating the idea of and engagement with the cosmos.