Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Paradox Of Restrictions

Status Update: I'm STILL using beans from two weeks ago. Like I said, my stocks are impressive. Bombs will fall from the sky, the populace will be replaced by talking radioactive cockroaches and Brendan Fraser will be an A-lister again before I run out. Actually, I think I might have to get more this weekend. Brendan may still have hope.

Cerebral post hooks, I've got 'em. Even now, there are people being led here by spurious Google results about coffee beans and finding obscure blathering about writing instead. Perhaps they will click on one of my stories, expecting to read about the best kind of coffee beans to use with a French press and get a story about a killer tree instead.

This week's story is another short one. I'm playing around with formulas, something you typically do more of in poetry than in prose. In this case, I'm taking the sestina and seeing what happens when you graft it into a short story format. Yes, this is the sort of thing that usually results in awful and contrived things. I'm doing it anyway because that's the sort of daredevil I am.

Instead of ending lines with words, I'm ending paragraphs with full sentences which will be repeated throughout. The final three paragraphs (the envoi) will contain two pre-determined sentences each--one at the terminal position, one in the paragraph itself. This is either going to be completely awful or amazing, kind of like that idea you had for a spur-of-the-moment meal last time you were piss-on-yourself drunk. Who knew that bananas and jalapenos would have such an interesting texture deep-fried?!

Much like the poetry version, there's a surprising amount of advanced planning involved. The sestina works based off of word (and in my case) sentence pairs. You have to look ahead at the structure and keep in mind that your choices will have to play against each other successfully in separate combinations as the structure works through its different permutations.

If you fuck it up, your poem/story/whatever will sound like Captain Beefheart lyrics. That's right, the Mascara Snake! Fast and bulbous!


It's fun. It's short. It' something different. If you don't constantly try things that make you uncomfortable, you will never grow.

I actually like subjecting myself to restrictions when creating. It's the paradox of freedom--most people, when they have all the choices, will fall back to the comfortable. Think back on what you did this weekend: did you go exploring? Did you take a class and learn something knew? No, you probably did much of what you usually do on the weekend. You probably wrangled up a few friends, had a drink or two. Maybe you went out to your favorite restaurant and watched some TV afterwards. Game of Thrones was on, gotta catch the latest episode. No problem with that--it's good for you to have emotional touchstones. But you can't really grow doing it.

Proper use of restrictions is one of many ways to shake your brain out of its rut. This is because you are constantly working under restrictions anyway, except these are the restrictions you've built yourself. You've grown so used to them over the years you don't see them anymore. Hence the word "rut."

And that's all it is, really. The more arbitrary the restrictions you follow, the more interesting the results when you've finally pounded through it all. Make a story without verbs?! What kind of madness is this! No characters at all? Describe things only with smells? It might (and probably will) suck, but if you can learn one thing from the exercise, it's worth it.

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