About My Book

Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Think About Issues Like You Think About Your Writing

My experiences with novel writing have helped me in more than just writing but with how I examine real-life issues. In fact, I've seen similarities between what writing a novel is all about and what most real-life issues are really like.

The politicians, pundits and meme creators want most issues to be boiled down to as if it were "us vs. them." That sounds like the basic plot for every novel that's out there, doesn't it? But when one falls into the trap of "us vs. them" when it comes to a major issue, one starts thinking about the issue as if it were like flipping a coin and whether or not they believe in the saying "tails never fails."

Imagine if we writers started thinking of every novel we wrote in those terms. It's true the plot is part of every novel, but the advice many writers share is not to focus too much on the plot because then you lose sight of everything else. It's the same way with facing any major issue in life: Focus too much on the opposing sides and you're losing sight on many other elements that matter.

Instead of thinking about an issue like the decision on a coin toss, thinking about an issue like a jigsaw puzzle is a better approach. A typical jigsaw puzzle is rectangular, meaning it has four corners. Such a puzzle has four corner pieces and no more than that. These are the pieces that are the easiest to determine where they belong. Those pieces are closer to the "opposing sides" on an issue and the plot in any novel.

Then you have a number of pieces that belong on the edges, but it may take some time to figure out where they go. When it comes to an issue, the equivalent of the edge pieces are factors that can be observed pretty easily, although it may take time to figure out what effect they have. When it comes to novel writing, those elements would be the characters, the setting, the conflict and any other element that helps drive the plot and helps the reader understand the plot.

And then comes the remaining pieces, which all go somewhere in the middle. These are the pieces that take the longest time to sort out and determine where they go. When it comes to an issue, these are the factors that aren't apparent at first and require digging deeper, sometimes where you have to question whether what you believe to be true or the best method turns out otherwise. It's not an easy task, no matter how much we wish it were, but we must do this if we are going to complete the picture.

How does this apply to a novel? It's how we find out what our characters are really like, how do they react to situations, and what we find out makes sense from their perspective. Sometimes when we write, we think a character will go one direction, but we find out that what we wrote doesn't make sense for that character. We review what we write and believe that it's better if the character went this direction or reacted differently. We question whether the situation makes sense and how it can be adjusted if it doesn't.

That's the difficult part of writing a novel. Sometimes we may find the characters don't react the way we think they should, but we better be prepared to adjust our thinking if we want the novel to work. Otherwise, we won't have a completed work.

The more pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the longer it can take to put it together. That is true with the more complex issues we struggle with. Regarding novels, it's not just the length that comes into play, but the complexity of our characters and situations.

It's easy to fall into the trap of "us vs. them," because that's how writers will often start their ideas. But once they start writing and thinking more about what they have in mind, they find that it's more than just "us vs. them." So I would hope writers would think the same way about real life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sanders, Trump And American Voter Frustration

The 2016 Presidential race has begun and if it wasn't evident earlier that a lot of people were frustrated with the way things were going in Washington D.C. and how the leaders of both major political parties were conducting themselves, it should be evident now.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have leadership that seem to be less interested in thinking outside the box and more interested in being upset that things didn't go their way in 2008. Top GOP folks continue to believe there was nothing wrong with how things were run under George W. Bush with a GOP majority in Congress, while certain Democratic leaders give the impression that they still can't believe Hillary Clinton didn't win the nomination in 2008. Neither side wishes to acknowledge what the real problems are and the roots of voter frustration.

Regarding Sanders, it's true that a lot of the solutions he has proposed aren't workable, but that doesn't mean we need to look the other way and pretend everything is OK. This seems to be what the Democratic leadership wants to do, though, where a common line preached is that Clinton is "more electable" and that if the Democrats are divided, the GOP takes the Presidency. These are lines, though, that the frustrated portion of the Democratic party, or those who left the party, are tired of hearing. They want somebody who will at least offer alternative suggestions, even if they aren't all realistic and some won't stand a chance of passing.

Furthermore, there's a large perception that the segment of the Democratic leadership who wasn't happy that Clinton didn't win the nomination in 2008 had their minds set on ensuring that it happened in 2016. All you have to do is look at how few Democrats announced they would seek the nomination, how few debates were scheduled and how those who entered the race were quick to pull out. Democratic party leadership cannot shatter this perception by simply declaring that if the members don't unite behind Hillary, the GOP wins the election.

As for the Republicans, the rank-and-file would love nothing more than to get Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio into the White House because neither will attempt to rock the boat. Ted Cruz is not like that, although his appeal is somewhat limited. Cruz draws interest from the deeply religious in the GOP, but that group is a small minority with a loud voice. And like with other GOP candidates that group backed, Cruz will get a few wins but not enough to win the nomination.

The real threat to GOP leadership is the man with a legitimate chance at winning the nomination, Donald Trump. As with Sanders, many of his proposed solutions aren't workable, and unlike Sanders, Trump seems less interested in eloquence and more interested in playing up to the crowds. But at the heart of the support for Trump's candidacy is GOP voter frustration. More members of the GOP are realizing how many mistakes were made in the George W. Bush years and are tired of seeing the same old rhetoric from leadership.

And yet the more I read, the more I find that leadership in both parties are clueless to what voters are really frustrated about. To put this into perspective, there's something I saw a few years back about how one concern of the Tea Party and one concern of Occupy Wall Street are actually linked together. It goes like this:

* The Tea Party believes that the government is too powerful.
* Occupy Wall Street believes that corporations are too powerful.
* The heart of the matter: Corporations influence government leaders to form legislation that's favorable to corporations in exchange for financing the campaigns of said government leaders.

The third point is a major reason for the real problems facing the United States and leaders in both parties may not be oblivious to that, but they sure act that way.

If the leaders of both parties are going to take an honest approach to addressing voter frustration, it needs to be realizing that Corporate America cannot continue to run the show. That doesn't mean you take the exact opposite approach of milking Corporate America for all it's worth, but it does mean you need to take a deeper look at issues of taxation, wages, immigration, social welfare, health care and foreign policy and figure out a different approach to them, rather than party leadership continuing to roll out its version of "we have always done it this way."

Most of all, the favorites of both party leadership need to pay closer attention to that frustration and start thinking outside the box for themselves. They especially need to realize that the issues are not like flipping a coin and calling heads or tails, but they are like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle that will create one big picture, but has many pieces that form that picture.

But as long as the leadership of both major political parties continues to portray legitimate voter frustration as just a phase people are going through, and that candidates like Sanders and Trump are only destined to tear the parties apart, nothing is going to get solved, voter frustration will worsen and it's far more likely that the parties will get torn apart for good.