No Time For Trolls

While the internet has given a new voice to many otherwise unseen writing talents, it has also…well, done the same for people who just like to say hurtful things to other people. Marina Shifrin wrote on her blog about how the underbelly of this revolution in publishing has caused some of those unseen talents to fade back into the woodwork. She includes in her post this plea to show some love to the writers you like out in cyberspace:

Now you promise me this: if you read something you love, then write something nice in the comments section. Fight the internet trolls who use hatred as their form of entertainment. If you don’t feel comfortable writing a public note, then send the writer a private message, most writers are pretty accessible if you do a little digging. Many nice, smart readers are being muted by sexually frustrated teenage (let’s face it, they’re most likely teenagers) assholes. Even good writers still get the occasional tweet, message, or email containing language that shatters their confidence to the core. Why are there more angry comments than encouraging ones?

All of us who post on the web have (sadly) had to deal with trolls and spam attacks. Some hurt more than others. I joined a “healing community” once while going through a rough patch only to have my post greeted with a reply that started “What the F— is wrong with you?” I promptly burst into tears, after which I wrote a sarcastic reply and quit the (not so healing) community. A more fragile person could (as Ms. Shifrin notes, imagining a suicidal Sylvia Plath facing a hostile remark) be catastrophically affected by such thoughtlessness.

Constructive criticism is all very well and good, and any mature writer would welcome it as useful, but destructive declarations do nothing but feed twisted egos.

If you read the post, be sure to take in the comments by a horde of interesting readers who help put the dark side in context. We can’t stop people from being devils but we can choose to be angels ourselves.

Aerial Photos from The Animal Farm

In case you were wondering what would have happened if writers of the past got their mitts on today’s technology, BuzzFeed has you covered with this post about Virginia Woolf’s take on Facebook, among others. It seems Ernest Hemingway’s style is just perfect for our time but James Joyce might not do as well. This reminded me of a piece I saw a while back in which Scarlett O’Hara’s texts were “recovered.” Not surprisingly, one reads: “Ashley-y-y-y-y-y….”

I’ve heard of authors writing letters in their characters’ voices as a way of connecting with them. Conversely, I saw this post advising writers to try writing a letter to their character in their own voice to help push past a rut in their writing  (“Dear Scarlett, I enjoyed the barbecue at Twelve Oaks immensely and want to thank you again for inviting me to crash with you. Please accept a piece of friendly advice in return. About Captain Butler…”).

Like scrap booking, this approach allows a writer to use another creative avenue to inspire new material. Well, that can be your excuse for hitting your favorite social media site instead of writing that 1,000 words you promised yourself. You’re welcome.

ADDENDUM: J.K.Rowling tweeted recently to celebrate the first day of school at Hogwart’s for Harry Potter’s oldest son. Fans promised to “say hi” if they spotted him on his way.

Rack up Your Roster

As the baseball season (spring training season anyway) gets underway, the fantasy draft is in full swing. What about the writers’ version of the same? One way in which authors approach wish fulfillment and play at setting up their own empires is to develop a scrapbook of the ideal cast of a movie version of their work. Of course, you would have to be the world’s luckiest and most influential casting director/executive producer/director to get all the actors you want for that movie, not to mention having command of the company with the deepest pockets on the planet, but the same is true of the various sports teams that are created by fantasy moguls. That’s what fantasy is for, to explore all the possibilities with the utmost freedom.

When I was posting actively on Writing.com a few years back, I found making digital scrapbooks (really illustrated synopses) to be an inspiration for works in progress. I also found it great fun. In a few cases, I went so far as to make what I call “bootleg trailers.” These concoctions would never see the light of day (or rather YouTube) because they shamelessly appropriated copyrighted material. Out of respect for other artists (and the various laws that pertain), I declined to share these works publicly. However, I did describe in detail my efforts to develop a bootleg trailer for the first two entries in my “Hob Scourge” series in my personal website .

My own rules for finding talent for my fantasy cast are as follows:

  • The actors must be of the appropriate age, gender, race, and general body type
  • In the photo to be used for the scrapbook or trailer, the actor must be dressed (insofar as possible) in clothing that would suit the character
  • The actor’s pose and facial expression should either support the character or be neutral
  • The setting should be either neutral or echo a setting from the book

Finding the right photos can be difficult. Some actors who seemed perfect for the part had to be discarded because I could never find the right photo. For others, the search was long. For example, when I cast Topher Grace as sad-sack Jonah in Still Life Without You, I discovered that the vast majority of photos show him smiling too warmly. Elizabeth Banks either dressed too well or too scantily for the most part to fit Elsa in The Troughton Line. I almost gave up on Christina Ricci as Sugar Daniels from Shoals Court until I stumbled across a photo of her looking startled and frazzled and wearing a necklace that seems out of place on her, perfectly in character.

Along with acting talent, I also sometimes gathered photos of objects important to the story, such as the cars from Soleville and the golden toe ring from Still Life Without You.

Music for a bootleg trailer does not have to follow the same rules as that for a video trailer that will be publicly posted. For my public videos, I use royalty free Creative Commons music that is licensed for all uses. For bootlegs, I dig through my home music collection. It was hearing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” that inspired me to develop my bootleg trailer for Shoals Court but I used a different piece, Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession,” for the final project.

The greatest danger in making scrapbooks and bootleg trailers is that they can eat up all the time you should be spending on your work…just like writing posts for this blog…