Permission to Thrive?

“Are you giving yourself the permission to thrive?”

It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately.

Sometimes we’re not held back by the fear of failure, rather we’re held back by the fear of success! Crazy, right? Let me explain.

I can’t speak for everyone else but myself, so I’m going to share my experience and you can let me know if it resonates with you. As a kid, I was constantly told by my parents and teachers that I wouldn’t amount to much in life simply because I had little to no interest in school.

Their basis for me living a successful and happy life was me getting good grades to get into a good college in order to get a good job, and because I refused to do homework or go to school for many periods in my life, it meant that I was doomed to fail.

For a long time, I believed all the crap they fed me. I bought into this narrative of me being a lazy failure of a person, so whenever I get close to possibly succeeding at something, I get scared. It feels uncomfortable and unreal to be competent, let alone productive.

I grew up believing in the opinions of authority figures who knew nothing about me because they took little to no time trying to understand me. They just wanted to force me into their little box of what they thought I should be.

It’s why that even to this day I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not lazy, that I’m not a failure. That if I take more opportunities to engage in activities and interests I actually cared about, I can actually excel at them. No matter what I’ve gone through in life, and no matter what level of interest (or lack thereof) I’ve had in school, the one constant has always been writing. I’ve always managed to keep the interest in writing alive and get good grades in English class, even if I had skipped several weeks of school and neglected every other subject.

Fast forward to today, after 10 years of working for other people, I quit my last day job and am now fulfilling my decade long dream of working for myself. It’s a dream I’ve had ever since I had an asshole for a boss at my first job outside of school. Every other boss after has been okay for the most part, but this one particular douchebag was the pinnacle of potential killing authority figures I couldn’t stand, rivaled only by some teachers I’ve had throughout my years in school.

What all these authority figures had in common was the demeaning and forceful way they got me and my classmates and co-workers to get our work done. They would yell at us, call us names, get upset over the tiniest things. And whenever the pressure got too much, I would usually be the only one to yell back at them. I look back now and realize it wasn’t always for the best, but there were times where my pride was hurt far too much to let some scoldings slide.

I grew up so used to this dynamic of fighing back that I find myself becoming an authoritarian figure to myself and end up…fighting with myself.

I know it may sound crazy, but it does feel like I am split into two: the master and the slave. I guilt myself out when I don’t work as much as I could and “should” be working on my business. I bully myself into compliance and only end up working on stuff I’m passionate about with the same resistance and resentment I would with my homework.

It’s so messed up, I know!

The key fix for me is first of all, to notice how messed up this dynamic is. Then second, it’s to remind myself to not even worry about the success aspect, and focus more on the aspect where I get to create value for potential readers and clients by enjoying the creation process.

All these authority figures made any form of work seem like a chore because they focused far too much on how we would be perceived by them and the rest of society, especially by a grading system that I think is outdated. As if letters from A-F or scores of 0-100% were the only basis on which to measure your merit as a human being.

We’re more than test scores.

We’re more than what all the naysayers have made of us.

We are made to not only survive, but thrive.

Are you giving yourself the permission to thrive?

 

 

 

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Your Write to Live

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Everybody’s got a story to tell. Whether you’re recounting your real life experiences or engaging your imagination as you day dream about fictional characters, we all connect through stories. Storytelling has been around long before the written word and has been a vehicle to illustrate life lessons.

Back in the Hunter Gatherer days, a hunter may have recounted his run in with a deadly boar and lost a limb, so he would gather everyone around the camp fire and tell his story to make a point: “don’t mess with the boar or you get the horns. Now let’s make long pointy things to stab them with so we don’t have to fight bare handed.”

Yes, that’s a true story. To some degree.

Now I’m pretty sure they didn’t talk like that back in the day, but the lesson and experience is universal: mistakes were made and a committment to improvement was made to mitigate any future problems. That’s all stories really do in the end. They reveal human folly, illustrating just how flawed and fallible we are, but also celebrate our capacity to correct course.

Think of your favourite stories. What do they all have in common?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, they all feature a variety of fuck ups made by the main characters, and you got worried about them. You wanted them to achieve their goals, but something got in the way. You related to how they felt when they didn’t get what they want, thus invoking a sense of panic in you to the point where you couldn’t help but turn the page or watch the next episode to find out if they could escape a dreadful situation and come out on top.

Now think even deeper, further beyond the surface situation your favourite characters were confronted with. Think about what their goal was and what it meant to them, what it meant to those around them in their immediate world, and to the entire world at large. Was there a higher purpose to strive for? A moral principle to be uncovered? Some hidden nugget of human knowledge, new or old, that would benefit the growth humanity?


If that sounds too abstract let me give a few brief examples of how there’s so much more beneath the surface when it comes to popular stories:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is fundamentally about grieving the death of a child, as the story goes, but also serves as an allegory for Alice’s survival as a rape victim herself. She may have survived physically, but mentally, a part of herself died and was reborn into Susie Salmon, the novel’s main character.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs is fundamentally about human adaptability. How we are much weaker we are compared to other species, but it’s our wit and human invention that allows us to conquer even the most dangerous of beasts and environments.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is fundamentally about self-ownership and personal choice when it comes to suicide. It may have the basic components of a romance novel; boy meets girl, boy can’t stand girl, but will later need girl. But at it’s core, it’s about the difficulties of living with a disability and the moral complications of suicide.


Now before I go on a long winded bender pointing out the deeper meanings of stories and shamelessly advertising my old BSBS Reviews (for those of you who clicked the links per title), here’s the bottom line:

Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience.

The human experience is fundamental to storytelling.

Writing and telling stories is how we validate our experiences in stylized fashion, emphasizing certain details to illustrate a point and engage each other. Stories invoke empathy, inspire action, and challenge our preconceptions of the world.

Consuming a story is basically putting yourself in a state of voluntary vulnerability in order to experience somebody else’s point of view and learn from their trials and tribulations so you can further improve the use of your own thoughts, words, and actions.

And then on the flipside you can tell your story to provide that experience for others.

It’s Our Write to Live.

My Write to Live

blood on paperWhen I was a teenager I had suicidal thoughts, and on some unfortunate occasions, suicdal tendencies. I was bullied by the other kids and wanted to turn to the school staff for help, but most of the teachers I had were authoritatian tyrants or simply uncaring of my well-being. A vice principal I once had talked at me with throwaway advice without taking any time to understand how I truly felt. That same vice principal would later in the year fail to prevent a fist fight I got into, even though I had provided him a ton of evidence it was going to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t have the school staff’s trust because whenever I would defend myself from bullies, I would be the one who would get in trouble and shamed for my behaviour, for my emotions. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, not even my own family, I felt completely and utterly alone.

Or so I thought.

One of the few things I would find solace in was the music of Korn,along with other angsty nu-metal bands, but Korn was my all time favourite since I was a kid. I related to the raw frustration Jonathan Davis’ lyrics were written with and they inspired me to write some of my own in the same vain. Whether the lyrics were about the bullies I wanted to take down, the girls who rejected me, or the general feeling of emptiness by the end of the school day, I wrote lyrics to release these feelings somewhere safe where I wouldn’t get in trouble or be shamed for my behaviour, or my emotions.

Fast forward to my adult years, there was a time where my life was falling apart far worse than I had experienced in my teen years. To name very few issues I had out of a myriad of others, I was getting into intense fights with my family, had to leave a writing critique group due to fundamental philosophical differences, and worst of all found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine had committed suicide.

It was August 2014, I was unemployed and directionless. I had very little money left from a caregiving job I was severely underpaid for and felt empty. Now having grown up and survived my adolesence, I no longer contemplated suicide, especially considering the tragedy of my ex-girlfriend. I no longer cut myself and no longer imagined myself beating my chest until my heart gave out, but I still felt like my life was meaningless and that I didn’t have much reason to live.

Not until I journaled about everything that has been going on for me at the time. Not until I remembered that I had a half finished 2nd draft of a novel just sitting on my computer left untouched for many months. That novel of course was It Starts at Home, the very same anti-child-abuse themed novel that I had fundamental philosophical differences about with my writing group, likewise with my family, both of which, of course, are stories for another time.

For many months after leaving my writing group, I felt discouraged from ever writing again. But when I got back into it and got on my way to completing the second half of the 2nd draft, those feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness disappeared. Those feelings of regret over my existence were all gone as well, for I rediscovered the joy and meaning I found in writing this story. Sure I picked myself up, applied for work, and got two jobs I put a ton of passion into, but they could never compare to my true calling. My true calling that I drowned out with the noisy distraction called “work.”

Of course! The answer to the question “what am I gonna do with my life?” has been right in front of me all this time, right under my nose, hiding in plain sight: I need to write.

And I stress the word need because writing is a necessity to my life just as much as blood is. To me there is no difference between the blood that drips through my veins, and the ink I bleed on to the page.

I was born a writer. Even when I was as little as seven years old I would skip school to write stories and draw comic books. I’m in love with stories. Whether they’re acted out in a TV show or film, printed in a book or set of lyrics, stories are what makes my life worth living. Not to mention the stories of our lives as I also find a great interest in the real life stories of those around me. All of our lives on this planet are a bunch of stories complete with their own twists and turns, character development arcs, and crossover narratives.

Stories, in any form, help me feel like I’m not alone. To know that others feel the same way I do about life and the human condition, that makes my habitual confusion and anxiety managable. From the lyrics and books I’ve read, movies and TV shows I’ve watched, all my favourite stories have resonated with me on an emotional level. They put the storm in my head into words and action, sequenced in honely crafted narrative that express the growth of character and the universal human desire to overcome life’s many obstacles.

As a writer, this is what I want to achieve. I want to strike a chord in those who read my lyrics, comfort those who will read my books, and let them know that all these confusing and conflicting emotions are all part of simply being human, and although there is no cure to them, they can be managed and understood.

As a writing coach, this is what I want to inspire in other writers. I want to help other writers, as I’ve painstakingly helped myself, to realize the power they have in putting their innermost vulnerable thoughts into the written word. The power to make readers, like myself, feel a lot less alone when life gets them down and when meaning seems all but lost.

The written word is My Write to Live.

It’s Your Write to Live.

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post: Putting it into Practice

I am very glad that everyone has enjoyed the recent series I’ve written on The Four Pillars of Fiction, so much so that I’ve broken records in terms of daily viewership and followers gained per post.

So thank you very much for the views and follows!

If you’ve found these posts helpful and think others can benefit, feel more than free to share it around, I would be greatly honoured!

To top off this delicious cake of blog posts, we’re gonna smear on some icing in the form of examples straight from my own novel It Starts: at Home.

Building It Starts: at Home With the Four Pillar Structure

In the following graph, I have outlined the story’s Plot, Location, Objective, and to prevent spoilers, I’ll allow the chracter graph to illustrate the Tenacity.

I’ll keep everything after the rising action the same just so you get an idea of how those questions become important in relation to what I have introduced in my PLOT.

It Starts: at Home Spoiler Free PLOT Graph

It Starts at Home Plot Graph Spoiler Free

Characters With Similar Differences

The main characters of my story seem like complete opposites at first glance, but they share the same kind of vulnerabilities…that take on different forms from each other.

Sorry if that sounds confusing, but basically the plot revolves around how parenting effects young adults, how they end up treating each other at school due to their upbringing, and ultimately in the form of issues surrounding self esteem and popularity.

The way these characters compliment each other and clash against each other looks a little something like this:

Johanna and Britney's Similar Differences

The Settings Surrounding the Homes

As I’ve said earlier in this series, my favourite setting is comtemporary so that I can focus much more on the character development and interpersonal relationships. All of which is possible in a much more advanced setting than mine, but here’s a rough sketch of what this basic world looks like.

It Starts at Home Settings

Thus Truly Concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction Series

Thank you very much again for your time, and as always I hope you’ve enjoyed, and gained value, from The Four Pillars of Fiction series.

Let me know if the points I’ve made in the series were much better having been substantiated by my own story’s examples, if you preferred the abstract one from the characters post, or the direct Inception example for settings.

I wanted to mix it up each post as I believe each method served the purpose it needed to for each pillar.

For those of you who are wondering how I made all of these graphs, I have been using Scapple, a top notch mind mapping program you can download at http://www.literatureandlatte.com

For dialogue examples from It Starts: at Home, click here for a full scene.

Til next time, keep on writing!

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 4: Dialogue

So you got your plot, your characters, and the setting?

All that’s left to do is make these people talk, and following in the principle provided in this blog series, what they think and say needs to serve a purpose.

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Why Don’t You Say it to My Face?

When characters speak in fiction, it is meant to resemble a more concise version of human interaction. It subtracts the filler pleasantries and zooms in on the most important aspects of a conversation, and so any small talk topics like the weather and sports should be exempt from dialogue.

Unless, of course, weather and sports are important aspects of the story…

Otherwise we love experiencing fiction because we get to eavesdrop on people’s most vulnerable conversations.

Sound creepy? It kinda does, but these characters aren’t real!

Or are they?

Well, they are only as real as you can portray them in terms of their emotional reactions to their interactions with each other and the world you created for them.

Dialogue should reveal four things:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Character
  • Relationship

To reveal plot, characters need to talk about the central theme and objective in a way that lets you in on the most crucial concern in their world. Perhaps it’s poverty in a post-apocalyptic world, and so the characters will talk a lot about how there’s a shortage of food and shelter after some devastating event that destroyed their world.

Everything they talk about should be about survival and rebuilding their society. In doing so, they also get to reveal the setting since it serves as a backdrop for the plot.

Along with exposition and narrative, talking about the place they live in is another way to help describe the setting. As a viewer, we will see their world in a certain way, but it’s interesting to see when a character’s views contradicts ours.

Perhaps the post-apocalytpic world might seem bleak and hopeless to us, but the inhabitants and the way they speak can reveal how much hope they have in their own survival. Furthermore, it can reveal what kinds of bonds are created in such hardship.

As Long as We’ve Got Each Other

conversationSo on top revealing plot and setting, dialogue must also reveal character. When people talk, they are always revealing what they think and how they feel, whether they intend to or not. It’s inescapable. Each person is equipped with their own unique way of expressing themselves in terms of what they value and what they want.

Now it’s tricky because you don’t want your characters blatantly saying “we live in an apocalytpic world and starve every day.” You have to find a way that makes it sound natural, much like every day conversation, but of course remembering to always keep it concise and in relevance to the plot.

Life would be much easier if people were more direct and honest about how they feel and why they have those feelings, but we usually end up expressing all that in different ways that can be interpreted in different ways since we all have our own subjective experiences and opinions.

Because we all have such differing preferences and opinions, we often end up in arguments revealing what we all expect of each other and the world, thus revealing how we relate to each other. Where we differ and where we have commonalities is the bridge between two people, and there’s a push and pull dynamic that occurs in fiction and in real life.

We often want people to like the same stuff as us, but without the difference of opinion we would not have the privilege of being challenged to re-evaluate our values, feelings, and beliefs.

And that is the very point of fiction; to allow us to safely and passively experience a manifestation of our inner clash of values played out to us in another real with its own metaphysical and epistemological laws. With characters who represent different sides of ourselves and we get the chance to pick and choose, based on the consequences of their actions and interactions, what values and beliefs we must keep or discard–all done in a way that entertains us while informing us.

Semi-Final Words

Thus concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction series, thank you for your time. Let me know if these posts have been helpful and if you have any feedback or criticisms on how to possibly improve future and current writing tips, let me know! I’m always more than happy to hear your thoughts whether they’re simple kudos, questions, or criticisms.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post, where I will be using my own novels as examples for each aspect of fiction covered in this series…

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 3: Setting

Characters can’t just exist as talking heads in an empty vacuum, they need a setting in which to act out their drama.

And it can’t just be any place chosen at random, it needs to be a specific place that your types of characters would logically exist in.

Maybe you can have cowboys in space, or advanced aliens in the Sahara Desert, if you can make it work and make sense. But typically, you want your characters to match their setting.

CN-Tower

The CN Tower? Where Am I?!

My favourite setting in fiction is contemporary; stuff that takes place in the modern world with our current level of technology and realism. I can maybe do with a few fantastical or sci-fi elements, like time travel therapy in Being Erica, or spy tech in Nikita. But usually no magic, or fancy gizmos for me, and more focus on straight up day to day people whose lives I can relate to.

If I wanted to write a story about what it’s like to move from a small town and into the city, I’d perhaps use Toronto as my setting for my character to experience getting used to the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown area.

Or if you wanted to write a story about magic and wizards you can use Toronto as a landscape for an urban fantasy, or create a world that takes place in something that resembles medieval times.

Either way, if you’ve got a solid plot and a properly fleshed out cast of characters, any setting could work for your story so long as it serves a purpose.

The more elaborate your setting is, the more important it is to have a solid plot and cast so that whatever imaginitive concepts you come up with, they do not detract from the story’s philosophy, rather compliment it instead.

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Setting as Story

Let’s take the film Inception for instance. It’s technically contemporary, but they have technology that allows a group of corporate spies to enter the dreams of their targets to extract information from–and plant new ideas into–their subconscious.

They extract information through their dreams!  How cool is that?! Allow me to geek out about that for a second…

Alright! Anyways.

So the trippy elaborate concept of going into people’s dreams and the dream worlds themselves aren’t just an aside mentioned as a concept in this world. They’re the primary setting and concept that the whole story itself revolves around.

This idea alone, although interesting, would fall flat if there was nothing for us as movie goers to relate to, and so what makes this story so interesting is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb. He’s the leader of this extraction group, and despite his expertise at his job, he is often haunted by projections of his deceased wife Mal who shows up in other people’s dreams from time to time.

The theme of loss, grievance, and regret is just a few of the many themes in Inception. On the surface, Inception is about this covert group of dream spies trying to help their client take over a competitor’s business.

At its core though, it’s really more about the power of the subconscious and how much it can disrupt our lives if we do not resolve our personal trauma. It messes with us emotionally and interferes with our work and personal lives the way it does to Cobb throughout the film.

The setting is the dream world, and the objective of past pain is manifested in the form of Mal’s projections showing up when Cobb is trying to work in the dreams of people who have no idea who Mal even is. Apparently, working as an extractor, you need to be free of your own mind so that your own mental anguish does not seep into your target’s subsconscious.

Unfortunately that’s what causes Cobb to have some difficulty at his job!

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In a Nutshell

If you’re going to come up with elaborate rules for how the metaphysics of your setting work, make sure that they’re not too convoluted and that they actually serve a purpose in your story beyond making a dude say “whoa that’s trippy!”

The setting and concepts need to compliment the characters’ behaviour and the plot’s objective.

If you have characters who can use magic like the cast of Harry Potter, then the whole magic school setting and the importance of magic should both take focus of the story, as well as mean something to the characters.

If you have characters who know how to use advanced technology, then ideally the world the story takes place in should be advanced enough for it to make sense for such technology to exist. Think Star Trek and Star Wars and how their gear just wouldn’t work in say…Indiana Jones, unless you really grasp at straws for it to work!

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 4: Dialogue…