When the Muse strikes: Inspiration from the inhumane


Warning: the videos included and discussed below are graphic in nature.


Inspiration can strike like a lightning bolt—sudden and intense—or come on like a slow simmer, gradually erupting into a something of an idea. Greater writers than I have addressed the subject of ideas and inspiration. (A particular favorite of mine is Neil Gaiman’s 1997 essay “Where do you get your ideas?”) But everyone has a different process with the Muse, so I will explore where I found inspiration for some of my recent stories: “Dead Meat Running” and “The Hunt.”

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On writing: Essential editing techniques

One of the challenges of writing is not the writing itself, but editing what is written. Good editing is as important to the final work as the writing itself, if not more so. Editing is where the text takes shape, where the proverbial wheat is separated from the chaff. I’ve heard it said that a good writer writes 10% or more than will ultimately be included in the final draft. The writing we like, even love, may sometimes be cut from the final draft. (A few of my favorite lines from The Joining were left on the cutting room floor.) When editing, one must step back from the work, cast an eye over it, and be able to critically assess what is needed, what is missing, and what is extraneous.

So how does one get that distance? Well, here are some editing techniques that work for me.

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On writing: Naming characters

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II

“What’s in a name,” indeed.

There are two main methods for naming characters. One is the name of significance. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet argues that names are interchangeable and do not ultimately affect the nature of what is named. This runs contrary to the method of naming for significance.

An example of this is in the 2003 film Oldboy, which I saw for the first time last week. Oldboy (2003)The main character of Oldboy is named Oh Dae-su and, in an interview with director Park Chan-wook, Park stated “I named Oh Dae-su in Oldboy to remind the viewer of Oedipus. I was thinking of Greek myth or the classics.” In this case, Park deliberately uses the name to refer to the themes of incest, shame, and predestination from the myth of Oedipus. These same themes run through Oldboy, building upon one another as the film’s mysteries unfold. To me, the best part of this naming is that it is not an in-your-face reference, demanding attention from the viewer. Even as someone quite familiar with the myth of Oedipus, I did not realize the connection until I read up on the film afterwards.

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