There’s an orange-ish substance on the metal portion of my fidget spinner, and I cannot tell if it’s sauce from something I ate or rust. It looks slightly liquidy / sticky, which given either possibility makes me scared to touch it. Sure, there is hand soap and a sink in my dorm room, but from an economic perspective, the only benefit of me touching the fidget spinner is to obtain this information. Knowing how I am at the moment, there is a 0% chance that I would actually bother to clean the fidget spinner, meaning under either option I am very likely to just throw it out either way. On the other hand, I get my finger sticky with orange stuff if I do touch it, which will be unpleasant and require time to remove from my finger. Admittedly that period of time is less than the period of time it has taken me to write this, but now that I have written all of this, it would still be an inefficient use of my time to then touch the fidget spinner and determine the properties of the orange sticky substance on the spinner.
I have had a growing concern regarding storytelling, particularly written stories. On the one hand, the confines imposed by being forced to tell a story through words alone can allow for new artistic merit. Since telling a story depends on description, this description can be played with in fun ways. Zipping one’s lips shut can be described as pinching two fingers together and moving them from one side of the mouth to the other. By describing it in the second manner, the reader is not immediately aware this is zipping one’s lips shut and thus considers the specific action, giving a better visual image for the reader of what has just occurred and allowing the reader to be better immersed than they would be otherwise. Such strategies are useful and cool, but it does not lift my worry about the confines of storytelling through words alone. My greatest concern is that because everything is a description of reality rather than reality itself, there is a limit to the number of possible descriptions of that reality in a sense that there wouldn’t be to reality itself. Though a film is staged, what it portrays is immediately engaging on all senses. There isn’t the same basic prerequisite that in order to make a vlog, you have to be fully aware of autobiographical storytelling the same way one must to write creative nonfiction or creative autobiographical works. Sure, these elements can be helpful, but I don’t feel as if they are as integral to the essence of storytelling through video as they are in storytelling through words.
To express my concern as it blatantly is, rather than by trying to make it into some academic thinkpiece it’s not, I’m worried that I’ll run out of ideas for stories to tell because there’s only so many written stories that can be told. We’ve done it already to plot— please find me a plot from any medium from the past 20 years that hasn’t been done before already. Characters sure seemed immune for quite some time, but I’m beginning to grow concerned that the human experience can only be mutated in so many fashions. Intersectionality gives the best resolve to that that we have, since there are many tango dancers and many Genshiken fans, but very few tango dancers who are Genshiken fans. Thus I am able to combine my distinct repertoire into my content creation. However, I’m uncertain of how to extend this to stories. Typically as it is portrayed, characters must have an entry point for the audience. They must be universal in an element. This can’t be done though when it’s personal, because there are people who are just fucking weird. So you’re stuck with the dilemma: make your characters fucking weird and risk looking like a hack because it’s better to give your characters originality in their heart and soul rather than in their interests or appearances, or end up devolving into the at this point trite attempts to make a new take on a given type of character.
Part of this issue may evolve from the fetishization that fiction puts on weirdness. Anything that isn’t normal isn’t just something that isn’t normal, it is immediately put into this category of weirdness. And furthermore, these elements of weirdness are expected to not be tackled intersectionally— instead we can get the intersection from the interaction between characters. This totally contradicts reality, since I do do tango and I am a Genshiken fan and I do play ping pong and I am trans and I like creative writing and I’m majoring in math. For all practical storytelling, having a character with that much going on is absolutely ridiculous, but evidently by myself it exists in real life. So, do you overburden a character with too many traits, or do you deny them the many intersections that are legitimately prevalent in the human experience? Should you attempt to tackle writing characters who do have this metric fuckton of traits, it becomes inevitable that you give each trait its own point of relevancy, which is pointless and dumb. It’s necessary when writing a character to only include the information that is utilized in the story itself when writing the story. Chekhov’s gun— if my character plays ping pong and there isn’t an inherent personality in all ping pong players (which there isn’t, though there are trends and I’m sure one could express a player along one particular trend), it better be relevant to the story that my character plays ping pong. So then, only include the necessary details, right? The issue with this is that while there may be no ping pong playing happening in the story, the experience of competitiveness I get from playing ping pong and the elements that compose the game of back and forthness, and element of creativity in how you will attempt to best your opponent, et cetera et cetera, all of these things are relevant to the experiences of a person as a whole.
This is my dilemma— how do I capture all the intersecting elements of a person as viewed through their personality alone, without stating all those intersecting elements? John McNally in Vivid and Continuous does an excellent piece tangential to this. Minor characters typically have one defining element. To many people in my Japanese class last semester, I was the person who said, “I hate anime,” all the time. To my math professors and classmates, I was “that one 16 / 17 year old taking Calc 2 / Multivariate / Linear Algebra.” However, my experience within the math class is absolutely informed by my experience in my philosophy class wherein we discussed the philosophy of mathematics, and it’s absolutely informed by my experience of planning to transfer to another school otherwise I’d be way more fed up with the shitty instruction than I am, and it’s absolutely informed by all these other elements. If I were to seem dismissive of my math class and somebody were to ask why, I would say, “Well because non-Euclidian geometry is cooler and also fuck this school I’m out of here in 3 more months.” But if a character were to say it, that’d seem ridiculous. You’ve taken a minor character and injected them with a way too unnecessary amount of personality. Maybe for a main character this is fitting, but then even a main character has its limits. If my story is about how I as a person perceive love, then it’s going to be informed by fucking everything in my life since love is such a broad subject. When I think about sex, I’m going to think about tango and how leading and following can be traded off, both of these make me think of MacKinnon in my philosophy class who claimed the presence of dominance and submission is existing within a misogynist, androcentric paradigm of the world, even if roles are not corresponding to their original form as in me having sex with another woman or something else entirely. This makes me feel dysphoric because I then consider MacKinnon’s statement about how people whose identities are not strictly male or female are still bound to the same gender binary, which makes me feel as if on some rudimentary level, be it the continued existence of my penis or the psychology of being raised male or something else entirely, I’m never truly female. This in turn makes me feel less gloaty about playing ping pong because it’s not as impressive for a once-man to beat a frat boy at ping pong as it is for a woman to beat a frat boy at ping pong. Obviously this line of thinking is very TERF-esque and so I rationally reject it, particularly in the consideration of other individuals, because I am well-informed on the political paradigms of the trans world, another element of my existence, but that underlying presence still gives rise to dysphoria in said fashions.
All of these experiences are so invariably interconnected, so it’s difficult for me to write a story with myself as a character when myself as a character is just one or two or three things. This is something I can assume then is true of every person, which furthers my difficulty, because it means that every fucking character I can possibly write is a simulation and somehow ultimately unreal. How am I supposed to provide anything of meaning via a simulation alone? How can I choose only a select few elements of a person and expect them to be complete with only those few elements?
Perhaps the issue here lies in the what of my writing more than the downfall of writing itself— my struggle has always been to write longer stories. The five page / 1500 word mark is typically where my stories tend to transform into something else entirely, and as such, should I be writing a story that I’m truly convinced needs to be this way, I have to keep it under this limit or risk it transforming away from me. This struggle I recognize as inherently flawed, of course— again, John McNally laid it out. You’ve got to get past that point in the story before you’ll begin to write what you truly want to write. It’s when things come alive. My concern is that this “alive” mode of my writing is far more primitive than my intellectual form of writing… how can I write something I know is bad when I could instead spend my time writing something good? There’s no economic payoff here….
Perhaps then it’s this alive mode that needs to be honed, and the dead mode is irrelevant. All my time training my writing abilities, I’ve been working on my dead mode of writing abilities— something antithetical to how it ought to be.
In this case, all my creative writing classes have been useless! Everything I’ve written up until now, particularly the flash fiction pieces, have been worthless! Time to upend the system and kill my babies. I gotta get good at actual writing.