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Cinematic Absurdism: My Preferred Literary Genre

As you know – and even if you don’t – movies have had a heavy influence on my writing career thus far.

One genre that I have picked liberally from is film noir, mostly Sunset Boulevard which heavily influences one of the stories in my short fiction thesis.

I called it When You Were Young. I would love to get it published someday so that I could eventually share it with you.

But seeing The Maltese Falcon – the apex of the genre, so much so that no one has dared remake it since – was like being born again.

I’d love to delve deeper into adding its spirit to my work.

If that sounds weird, I don’t even care.

There are some movies that simply touch you so deeply as a creative person and a human being, it’s like, “why did I wait so long to consume you?”

One genre that I’d love to steal from (because that’s all art is, stealing from everyone before you) is German Expressionism.

Metropolis is arguably the first science fiction picture ever made. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is another brilliant film from that genre. Ideas, ideas.

I’m not afraid to say that movies have had a bigger impact on me than books. Books absolutely opened the door and reassured me that I can tell a great story.

Movies encouraged me to tell a great story in a small amount of space which is how I approach short fiction. There’s something magical about shaping a story to be as cinematic as possible.

To me, these formats are all telling stories. And I’m in the business of telling damn good stories.

Creating a story is much easier than trying to get a film made. You can write it, revise it, and throw it out into the world without involving this, that and the other person.

Maybe you’re submitting to a contest, maybe you’re posting it on your blog.

But when you’re trying to get a film off the ground, you can’t seem to get your schedules on track and now you’re three months behind in pre-production.

What an emotional wasteland it is, trying to make a movie.

Not so with writing.

You are in complete control of the story without having people be dependent on you – or you on them – to get your story into someone’s eyeballs.

If it does well or if it fails, it’s all on you as the author.

Say you take three months to even get words on the page.

There is someone at fault, and you can’t blame an outside voice.

It’s you.

It’s a very independent way of looking at the creative process overall.

Well, that’s the sidewalk theory behind the genre I represent if people ask me what my genre is: cinematic absurdism.

I coined the term to explain the stuff that I write because no one has ever named it before.

The grandfather of cinematic absurdism is Ray Bradbury.

I’m the most cinematic writer around — all of my short stories can be shot right off the page.

Ray Bradbury

Back in my graduate writing program, I didn’t realize it but I leaned heavily on dialogue to creatively move my stories forward.

My characters didn’t tell you in their head that they were doing something; they actually said it out loud.

No narrator told you they were doing this or that action.

You followed along through the words they spoke.

The conversations that they had, the clues that the story was going a certain way was told all through dialogue.

Truthfully, when I first started in my program, I was unrefined in terms of my craft. I knew I wanted to write; I knew that I could.

But I didn’t have a voice, a way to tell my stories in my own way.

I was intimidated by most of my fellow students because I could tell right away that they already found their voice.

They didn’t spend their first semester floundering, trying to wade through the water.

But the night that I was told in a workshop that my work depended on dialogue, something in me blossomed.

And it was the seedlings for cinematic absurdism.

Like Bradbury, I’m a firm believer that you could take any of the work I’ve produced thus far, storyboard it tonight, and film it tomorrow.

My dream is to get my stories published and the film rights sold so that I can see them on TV or in a theater or streaming on Netflix someday.

Someday!

The overall nature of the stories is that they could only take place onscreen, yet they exist for you at this moment to consume them through a piece of fiction.

More feedback that I’ve gotten is that they feel real but there’s something unnerving about them that forces you to question yourself at the end by saying, that’s so absurd, that would never happen in real life.

That’s the beauty of cinematic absurdism.

It doesn’t follow the strict definitions of either of its host words. It’s not inherently cinematic because it exists on the page.

Cinema implies that you’re supposed to be watching it on a screen, not reading it.

Wikipedia says that absurdist fiction:

focuses on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value.

Absurdist fiction

In general, I would say that none of my work hews strictly to that.

There is an exploration of the human condition through unreal situations, but there is always a purpose for these events that we find our characters in.

We dip into their lives at a certain point and we hit the ground running straight into the wall at one hundred miles per hour.

There is always an ending. Maybe not happy, maybe not rock solid. But there’s an ending.

Someday, I hope to be known as the Mother of Cinematic Absurdism. So, today, I claim that title as my own.

Someday, I hope to share this style with other authors who may feel their work would fall under the auspices of this genre, to give them a home for their own creativity.

Can you consume creative writing in 10 minutes or less?

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Craft Talk

The Unpretty Side of Being a Writer

Happy New Year!

This is a continuation of last week’s post. To be a professional writer, did you know that you need to sacrifice something when you walk down this path?

This is why so many writers nowadays depend on partners or a sizable inheritance to allow them to focus on what they do.

Anybody can call themselves a writer. I’m not splitting hairs about that.

But working-class writers like you and I don’t have that luxury.

This is a genuine question. What do you give up?

I am reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when I think about it:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization.

The writing life isn’t necessarily a triangle.

I was simply using it as a graphical representation.

A writer will have to give up and/or prioritize any one of Maslow’s levels over others, in order to do this thing we do.

If you have a family, writing will always take a backseat.

If you are nurturing a relationship that could lead to a family, I guarantee writing will be your co-pilot, not your primary focus.

If you don’t have a steady income, writing will not keep you warm at night.

It’s not easy being a full-time writer.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is a goddamn liar.

It’s not even up for discussion.

I feel like a caricature in the sense that I talk more about being a writer rather than actually writing.

Not to say that I haven’t tried to submit my work to be published.

Why the hell am I going down this path if not to be published and shared and dissected and loved?

To be forthright, I’m drowning in rejections, which is more than likely contributing to my feeling like an overall failure.

I know, I know; how many times was Harry Potter rejected before it was picked up?

It would do wonders for my already fragile ego to say, “Hey, I’ve been published here, here, and here.

Buy my book because those places have already validated my worth as a writer.”

Patience is a virtue but I’d slap that bitch silly if I had the chance.

Can you consume creative writing in 10 minutes or less?

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Craft Talk

When Do You Call Yourself a Writer?

Happy Christmas.

What is the first thing you think of when someone tells you they are a writer by trade?

I know what I think of:

A hunched body with bloodshot eyes (insert gender here), pounding feverishly at their typewriter, floating ghost-like amongst crumpled papers, a stack of books nearby, open, lined journals within reach, empty coffee cups and even more empty liquor bottles surround the desk they’re bent over in a room with one window facing the back garden to which they occasionally gaze out and towards wistfully.

I never saw myself in that role, even when I was saying I wanted to be a writer. It feels positively stifling to feed that romanticized view, to become the stereotype.

Writing – for me – has always been about creating worlds. I am a short fiction writer, so I get even less space than novelists do to tell my story. It’s a great exercise in restraint.

I create these fantastically absurd worlds within my overarching theme of cinematic absurdism. I have an entire literary-like theory about it in my head, which I will share once I figure out what I want to say about it.

But when do you get to call yourself a writer?

The moment you wake up in the morning and say, “there’s nothing else that I want to do but write. This is what I was born to do. I will sacrifice goats to the pantheon of gods if it means that I get to put words on a page.”

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Craft Talk

Every Story You Write

Every story you write, you create a tiny world of flora, fauna, animals, vegetables, minerals, emotions, colors, feelings, and so on. It doesn’t matter if it’s placed in a fantastically magical world, or if it’s in real-time, in the real world. This universe’s time stream is entirely dependent on me. I can put up the Great Wall of China, I can tear it down, I can have wars fought, ships launched, hearts were broken, all with the flick of my fingers. I can fall in love, I can fall out of love, I can examine the reasons why love is love is love.

I’m of the mindset that freedom is born out of sadness. Sadness doesn’t have to be a bad thing but you’re freed once you realize where it comes from.

As a writer, world-building is massive for me and a huge part of why I write, even if it’s a story set in the “real world” (whatever that is). I write short fiction. You must create tiny worlds in a finite amount of space regardless of the genre you write in.

It does tend to work against me, because all the novelists who critique my work whine and say, “this feels like a novel! Wah-wah-wah.” Well, it’s not, so give me feedback that I can actually use.

Just because you think the world I created is massive does not make the finite room I used any less important. Which is what I felt like they were saying.

There is something powerful, God-like about thinking back on the hundreds of worlds I have created over the course of my life as an author.

Some of them didn’t get past the preparation period.

Some of them were too grandiose even for a novel-length piece.

I would plot out a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not actually foresee the end. I’m confident that the lack of an ending kills most of my stories in the planning stages.

I love frolicking in these worlds but I get to maybe the middle part and have to second-guess myself.

I’m like, “uh, yeah, this story is the pits.”

My hands hover over the page and I mutter to myself,

I think that’s how God feels. You send these beautifully flawed creatures created in your image out into the world to do whatever they want, and all you can do is guide them and let them know in small ways that they exist. They’re real because they want to be.

I hold onto my stories in my vise-like grip a lot.

Like, a LOT.

I’m trying to be conscious of it and let it go. There is beauty in letting those stories and characters breathe and make their own decisions.

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Craft Talk

To outline, or not to outline, that is the question

Talk to a writer.

Any writer at any point in their career: fledgling, published, J.K. Rowling.

Each and every one of us will tell you a different thing about the writing process.

One stickler that jumps out to me is to create an outline.

I’m chewing on Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life” and what stuck out to me is that she offers a solid argument against outlines. In her “Structure” mini-chapter, she says that:

Outlines offer us an illusion that we are in control, that we know where we’re going. And while this may be comforting, it is also antithetical to the process of making work that lives and breathes.

There are so many arguments FOR outlines that reading her advocating AGAINST them was refreshing.

Other writers insist that any writer worth their salt MUST always have an outline.

They tell you to use index cards, post-it notes, smoke signals.

Use whatever you can, but write that outline!

I have found that outlines work against me. I use them, though sparingly.

They’re not something I depend on as part of my writing process.

As of this post, I have 11 outlines for different stories.

I’m not big on traditional outlines, with bullet points, Roman numerals and all that shit. I write it like a screenplay pitch.

I paint enough of a picture so that my future self knows what I was thinking about doing in the first place.

They’re not very long, maybe one or two pages. My longest pitch was for a trilogy of novellas at a whopping 4 pages.

I put enough words on the page to trigger memories of what inspired me to believe it would be a good story.

I include bare-bones character descriptions, like names, ages, gender, relationships to the other characters, and their initial role in the story.

I give myself a beginning, middle, and end to work towards, with plenty of room to veer off course as necessary.

I have yet to begin any of these 11 stories. I have no urgency to write to them.

An outline to me is something to be studied and built on, but not right now.

Procrastination is strong in me, as you can tell.

I like staring at a blank page and going completely nuts on it from beginning to the end.

I’m confident enough in my abilities that writing this way works best for me.

Is that first draft good? Hell no. First drafts are crap, everybody knows that.

Fix it in post, as they say in the movies.

Revision gives me life.

Hearing that another writer does it this way too made me feel less alone.

Whenever my professors in my writing program gently insisted that we should write outlines because they do help, I shrank into a dark corner, thinking I was weird.

I’m having a hell of a time incorporating what I learned there into my writing life.

I came out of my writing program with so many new, inventive ways to burn the toast that every writer before me has perfected in their own way that it’s these small reassurances that tell me I’m on the right path.

Today’s question: do you or do you not outline? Let me know in the comments!

Can you consume creative writing in 10 minutes or less?

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It’s time to celebrate and uplift marginalized voices worldwide.

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Craft Talk

33 Ways to Stay Creative

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out how to stay creative.

Us creative folks easily say, “I make things, yay!”

But maintaining that vibe all the time seems like a job unto itself.

This list has been helpful to me over the years, and I hope it’s of some use to you too.

  1. Make lists
  2. Carry a notebook everywhere
  3. Try freewriting
  4. Get away from the computer
  5. Be otherworldly
  6. Quit beating yourself up
  7. Take breaks
  8. Sing in the shower
  9. Drink coffee/tea
  10. Know your roots
  11. Listen to new music
  12. Be open
  13. Surround yourself with creative people
  14. Get feedback
  15. Collaborate
  16. Don’t give up
  17. Practice, practice, practice
  18. Allow yourself to make mistakes
  19. Go somewhere new
  20. Watch foreign films
  21. Count your blessings
  22. Get lots of rest
  23. Take risks
  24. Break the rules
  25. Do more of what makes you happy
  26. Don’t force it
  27. Read a page of the dictionary
  28. Create a framework
  29. Stop trying to be someone else’s perfect
  30. Got an idea? Write it down
  31. Clean your workspace
  32. Have fun
  33. Finish something

Save the image below to your computer and print it out. Post it up on your vision board. Put it in your notebook. Do what you can to incorporate it into your daily writing life. And I do mean daily.

Printable image of 33 ways to stay creative

How do you stay creative?

Can you consume creative writing in 10 minutes or less?

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It’s time to celebrate and uplift marginalized voices worldwide.

Join me – Guilliean Pacheco – on my journey to showcase emerging BIPOC writers and the people behind the scenes that let us do what we do too.

It’s time to step into the spotlight.

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