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Scrap Pile 5 – Portraying Phobias

This is another piece I originally wrote for my characterisation advice book (which I finished the first draft of at the start of last month and am now editing – so if anyone wants to complain about or compliment any self-publishing platforms, etc, now’s the time). Ultimately, I decided that the amount of space I would require to flesh this out into something which covered all the bases for considerate discussion was just too much for an already large section of the book. It also, like Scrap Pile 1 – Life Without Smell, felt a bit too personal as a description.

Having a phobia is like living out your days in a horror movie, but one which everyone else is convinced is a comedy in which you play the clown.

Phobias. Those things that people claim to have when they want to get out of something they don’t like having to do, which often gets confused with merely being really scared of something, and which has a long, proud history of terrifying authors so much that they go on to traumatise the rest of the world into sharing that phobia by portraying the thing they are afraid of the way they view it in their works. (For example, J.R.R. Tolkien, who nearly died of a spider bite in his youth, made giant spiders into a nightmarish thing for his readers long before the B movies portraying such things would manage to, and the chilling layer of casual racism in the works of H.P. Lovecraft wouldn’t be nearly as frightening if it hadn’t been based on Lovecraft’s own phobia of everyone who wasn’t a white, antiquarian from Providence or a cat.) But the thing is; for all that authors who have phobias are good at portraying their fear as something that can terrify the audience, most authors who don’t have phobias have difficulty portraying characters that do have phobias. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly it’s problematic because there is huge potential for drama, plot complications, and horror in correctly portraying a phobic reaction which is otherwise wasted. Secondly; because phobias are genuine anxiety disorders and it is hugely offensive to those suffering from real phobias to portray it (and thus teach the audience to believe) in the typical way seen in pop-culture – that is; something which requires a deep breath or two and a snarky comment about why the obstacle had to be that, then “will power” allowing the so-called phobic character to save the day and, having done that, continue on without any adverse affects.

Phobia does not merely mean being “very scared of”. Phobias are anxiety disorders; they are abnormal fear reactions and can range from the debilitating “cannot function in normal society” to the mild “behavioural coping mechanisms of avoidance and low-level paranoia” and “moderate panic attack” (panic attacks, by the way, are also not just being worried; they are a serious medical problem that has symptoms matching those of a heart attack – with the only major difference being that instead of actually dying you just think you’re going to). Abnormal fear. Abnormal. ABNORMAL. Not every lifelong fear of something is a phobia. You, and your characters, can just be really, really fucking scared of something. And this is an important distinction, because the over-use of the term phobia, caused by misuse in screen and page making it a popular buzzword, results in real suffers being denied the aid and compassion they need. The idea that (heroic) will power can allow a phobic person to overcome their problem during the climatic moments of a story has lead the majority of people to believe that someone having a phobic reaction can simply suppress it (“deal with it later”) or “get over it” and that they ought to “stop being a wimp” about it. That’s disgusting. It’s also extreme cruelty by ignorance, because the key difference between someone who is really, really fucking scared of something and someone who is phobic of something is that the former can suppress their fear and get over it, while the latter can’t. Can’t. Not won’t: can’t. Cannot. Is unable to. Telling a phobic person to “get over it” or “stop being a wimp” is kind of like telling a person with no legs to “get over it” and “stop being a wimp” about being asked to run a marathon without artificial limbs. It’s inappropriate, it’s degrading, and it’s fucking stupid of the person making those unreasonable demands. Also, full disclosure here, I do have a phobia (which I believe qualifies as mild, but I’ve never done an in depth comparative study on the matter).

Now, while I’ve mentioned several of the major reactions, I should specify that there is a fine line (the; can get over yes/no line) between being really, really fucking scared of something and being phobic, and because humanity comes in an infinite variety, the human mind has an infinite variety of ways of fucking itself over and therefore symptoms can come in wildly differing forms – and at different strengths in a person’s life. This means that on some occasions a person may have more or less trouble coping with a phobia or getting over a fear and that, while it is easier to illustrate phobias with examples, no set of examples is going to accurately cover every phobic person’s experience of their problems. With that in consideration: let’s take Arachnophobia as an example, as it’s one of the most common fears and one of the most common phobias.

Scenario: In order to rescue their Love Interests who have been tied up by the Evil Overperson, our brave heroes must cross a room full of spiders.

Hero 1 is an Arachnologist and loves spiders, so has absolutely no problem with this and does his best to not hurt any of them as he passes.

Hero 2 is a completely average and normal person. He takes a few deep breaths to steel himself for this because only someone insane or an arachnologist would not be at least a little afraid of walking through a room full of spiders, and then rescues his love interest.

Hero 3 is really, really fucking scared of spiders. He lets out what he will later deny was a scream at the sight, takes a lot of quick breaths before steeling himself to enter, gets a little sweaty and half-way through a spider gets a bit too close to his face so he gets angry and panics and starts yelling at them to get away while using his torch to set them on fire. He manages to rescue his love interest, but complains that he really needs a shower ASAP because of the spider webs.

Hero 4 is arachnophobic. First he screams at the sight, then begins mentally bargaining with himself (does he really love the love interest that much? Can he find someone else to go in there and rescue his beloved instead? Wouldn’t it be safer to just blow up the room and hope his beloved isn’t too badly scarred …but that’ll fling spiders everywhere no no nononono abort!). By this point Hero 4 is hyperventilating and getting dizzy from the lack of oxygen that causes, he’s crying and shaking, but also sweating, and his entire chest feels tight. He thinks it’s quite possible that he’ll enter the room of evil monsters from hell only to faint in the middle of it and then they’ll eat him or lay their eggs in him or worse crawl all over him, and that just makes him more terrified. Hero 4 covers himself in as many layers of clothing, and if possible a hazmat suit, as he can – once he’s discovered there is absolutely no one around to help him and he’s discovered that screaming at his love interest to free herself isn’t actually going to achieve anything – and attempts to use his torch and some flammable materials to set as many spiders on fire (and, to his horror, sends the rest fleeing in the direction he needs to go) as possible before he has to go in. He has to convince himself to not turn back with every single step and thus a short walk takes three times longer than necessary. He eventually frees his love, only to nearly set her on fire because of a spider crawling on her, and practically runs out of the room full of spiders. Then he strips of all his cloths and starts tugging at his hair, or possibly chopping it off, because even though his beloved assures him that there are no spiders left on him there might be. At this point he actually goes even more to pieces and switches from crying to bawling because room full of spiders. For the next two weeks he mistakes every itch (and he’s constantly itchy), tickling hair, and touch of fabric against his skin for a spider, and claws at himself because of it, and every night he has horrible nightmares about them crawling all over (and inside) of him and his beloved.

Hero 5 suffers from severe/debilitating arachnophobia. He can’t make himself go in to the room full of spiders. He wants to go in and save his love interest more than anything, but he literally cannot make himself do it. He’ll live with the grief and guilt for the rest of his life, but he can’t go in. He spends the next month jumping at every shadow, with his mind’s eye decorating each room he enters with spiders, and every night for months afterward he has nightmares about his love interest being crawled on by spiders and what might have happened to him if he’d gone in.

Now, the reason that the portrayal of phobias in fiction is such a problem is that most heroes are claimed, by their authors, to be Hero 4 (arachnophobic) but they act like Hero 2 (or, in rare cases, like Hero 3). This is also, admittedly, a strange situation given that most people do not have Love Interests who are available to kidnapping from Evil Overpersons who have fully furnished rooms full of spiders for them to adventure through. So let’s take a look at a more every day example.

Scenario: A spider is found crawling along the edge of the wall right before a person goes to bed.

Unafraid of Spiders Person shrugs, checks if it’s the bite-y kind and removes it (possibly barehanded).

Normal Person either gets the vacuum cleaner or a pot, to urge it into, and removes it while going “ugh” and “eeep”.

Really Fucking Scared of Spiders Person shouts, and either removes it (via pot or vacuum) while trying not to shake.

Arachnophobic Person screams for help upon spotting it, keeps a terrified eye on it (so it doesn’t disappear because if it does it could go anywhere) while someone else gets a pot or vacuum, whines with fear as it’s removed and then calls in help to remake their bed, check the floor for spiders, and promise that it’s really definitely gone and spiders don’t come in groups (the response to this, from the arachnophobe, is likely to be “I know that but it could still be here” and “I know they don’t come in groups but they might!”) . The Arachnophobic person will then, approximately ten minutes of unaccepted assurances later, proceed to continue getting ready for bed while worrying that there might be spiders. If the arachnophobe is in possession of a particularly vivid and/or visual imagination, this may be accompanied by “helpful” what if scenarios playing out in their head throughout their nightly routine (i.e. imagining spiders crawling out of or into their mouth while brushing their teeth, feeling every brush of fabric or hair as little legs, imagining spiders somehow turning up in the water that just flowed from the faucet into their hands – which they are about to splash on their face, thus meaning that their eyes are closed and will remain closed until the water-which-can’t-have-a-spider-but-might hits their face – imagining spiders crawling out of their retinas, and imagining spiders crawling onto and into them as they sleep. They check their bed again before climbing into it, then imagine the shadow of large spiders crawling over those parts of their bedding they can only see out of the corner of their eyes for hours until they finally fall asleep.

Severely Arachnophobic Person has a similar response to the mere arachnophobe, only it involves actually turning their entire room upside down looking for non-existent spiders, then applying tape to the places the windows meet their frames and the edges of the door. This process is elongated by the panic attack at the start, which they are unlikely to mistake for a heart attack as they are likely to get them often, and possible further panic attacks along the way as they work themselves up and down from states of frenzy and terror with every new potential hiding place for spiders. Even if they climb into bed at the end of their hour long search, they won’t sleep a wink.

 

If those example reactions of arachnophobes seemed a little crazy to you: congratulations; you’ve grasped the point. They are absurd, insane reactions, because a genuine phobia means a genuinely abnormal and not-sane or reasonable reaction to whatever it is that triggers the fear. Now, as I said, different people will react to their own phobia in different ways, so those examples above definitely won’t apply to every arachnophobe in the world, but they make for a very good comparison between those people who are merely really fucking scared of something (which is nothing to be ashamed of) and those who are suffering from a genuine phobia – an anxiety disorder.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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Scrap Pile 4 – Scientists, Religion, and Travelling Salesmen

This is yet another piece I wrote when I was much younger and, although I have nothing to do with it, I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw out. It was, originally, part of a humour sketch meant to be performed aloud – that is to say, a stand up comedy act. I suspect it loses quite a bit in being mere words on paper. I also suspect that nowadays it would be considered somewhat …inappropriate, in terms of tolerance and picking on other social groups, even though it was never meant offensively.


 

It’s amazing what religious people can get away with just because they’re religious. I mean, can you imagine how we’d react if it was scientists who came to the door at all those inconvenient times?

“Have you found thermo-dynamic theory yet?”

“Dude: it’s six in the morning… go away.”

Religious people knocking on our doors at all sorts of odd times is just something we see as normal. Because, honesty, if you woke up at six in the morning and found a scientist at the door trying to convert you, you’d be wondering whether those breath-mints you’d had earlier were Tic-Tacs or ecstasy. But nowadays, with TV advertising, even religious converters are a rarity at the door. And door-to-door salesmen are practically an endangered species. The generation before mine were pretty used to travelling salesmen, but I bet that in another decade they’ll be so rare they’ll be treated like a novelty act.

“Quick Johnny, get the door: it’s a travelling salesman!”

“I’ve heard of those.”

And they’ll pull out the digital camera so they have something to tell their grandkids.

“And in the summer of 2019 we had a travelling salesman come to the door. A real, honest to thermo-dynamics travelling salesman – and he was selling encyclopaedias. Isn’t that right, Johnny?”

“And they were paper. Tell them about the paper. You’ll love this bit, kids.”

“That’s right, they were paper…”

“Oh bio-wiz, grandma, everybody knows there’s no such thing as a travelling salesman. I mean, come on! The travelling salesman’s no more real than the boogieman. Next you’ll be telling us that people actually used to tell their kids that Santa from the Coca-Cola ads gave out presents in December!”


 

2019 used to seem like the distant future when I was a teen… What the heck happened?

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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Scrap Pile 3 – My House: My Rules

I wrote this years and years ago… maybe even a decade ago (where did my youth go‽) in order to make my position on the idea of fanfiction in general clear. Many fans believe, erroneously, that fanfiction is a right when it is in fact a privilege. Notably that opinion is only held by those who want to be able to use other people’s work as they please, and never by those whose works are being used – and often mutilated or used to make a profit – without their permission. I got into a debate with a friend and – despite not yet being published – wrote this as an explanation of where I stood on the matter. I wrote it as if I was talking to a fandom I had (which I don’t) and as if I had already published books (which I have not yet) based on the idea that I would simply have this ready for one day in the future when I was famous (naïve much?).

 


 

My House, My Rules:

A fictional world is like a house built by the creator – the characters are the creator’s pets. Publishing a work is the equivalent of selling photographs of your house and pets. The purchase of said photographs does not transfer ownership of the house or pets.

Fan works are the equivalent of visiting the house and pets rather than just looking at the photographs. That is: a fan is a guest and the owner lets them in with the expectation that they will behave acceptably. No matter how casual a person is in reality, they aren’t going to allow visitors into their home if they expect those visitors will berate them for their choices, trash their furnishings, claim to deserve the house more than the owner (who designed and built it from scratch), claim that the owner and owner’s wishes are irrelevant, or rape the pets. When someone allows a guest into their home they expect polite, socially acceptable behaviour. No one would argue against a homeowner who forced out a visitor who behaved inappropriately.

As long as fans can behave like vaguely descent human beings while visiting my home and my pets, they are welcome. If they cannot I shall have to enforce a no visitors policy and leave everyone with only the photographs.

My writing – my stories – is my house: a property I designed and built (and own) all by myself.

You are welcome, as guests, to let yourselves in and make yourselves comfortable – to write fanfiction and make fanart, so forth. However, you must remember that you are guests and guests are only welcome as long as they respect their host’s wishes and general patterns of social acceptability. Since I have seen far too many other ‘houses’ trashed by badly behaved guests (many of whom feel they have the right to complain about being kicked out afterward) I have made a simple list of rules which, let’s face it, really should be so obvious they don’t need to be spelled out for you (so why, exactly, do I have to?).

  1. You are welcome to make use of my furniture, read in my library and make yourself tea in my kitchen. That does not mean you have the right to take any of my things with you when you leave. If you wouldn’t steal your neighbours spoons (or characters, ideas, etc) don’t try taking mine. [You were not the inspiration, nor can you claim ownership of any characters or ideas. Yes, even if a sequel has something you also thought up in it. That just means you know my characters well. Congrats.]

 

2. You are welcome to tell me, and the other guests, what you like and dislike about how I have designed and furnished my house. You are not welcome to claim that I did things wrong because it is not the way you’d like it, nor that you could have designed and furnished it better. If you could have done it better you would be the host and I the guest. It is not so and that is not ‘unfair’. I am not ‘stupid’ because I painted the living room blue where you would have painted it green, nor because I do not try to make my pets sleep together. [Your opinions are welcome as long as they are given maturely. ‘I’d have preferred’ is acceptable, ‘you’re stupid because you didn’t do what I wanted’ is not. You do not know better about my stories than I do.]

 

3. On that note: my cat and my iguana do not wish to have sexual intercourse with each other. Kindly stop trying to force them together. It is not cute. I wouldn’t make your hamster fuck your gerbil. [If my canon states that a character is not interested – be it in a particular gender, person, or sex as a whole – do not try to change this …especially not because ‘they’d look so cute together’.].

 

4. Also, I am aware that my house is near another house where the guests are welcome to roam. I do not own the other house, but I am pretty sure that its owner will be just as upset as I if we find that you’ve dug a tunnel under the garden fence to connect the two. Even if I owned both properties, this would still be unacceptable behaviour from guests, no matter how drunk they are. If I wanted the properties connected, there would not be a fence. [In other words: crossovers are a no-no. I don’t care if you’re writing this at three A.M. and you’re high, that’s not an excuse.]

 

5. Similarly, I welcome guests, but not when they are drunk or high (or otherwise compromised). I assure you that your neighbours would no more approve ‘I was drunk’ or ‘I was high’ as an excuse for defacing their walls and destroying their furnishings that I would. [If you are, drunk, high or otherwise compromised then you should not be putting up ‘fanwork’ – especially not with a mention of the fact to ‘defend’ yourself.]

 

6. If you and another guest feel the need to shout at each other over whether my blue living room should have been painted green or purple please do so on the main road. This not only stops you from disturbing and frightening the other guests, it also makes it easier for disgruntled neighbours to run you over. [Flame wars: no.]

 

7. I have no problem with you drawing up plans for extensions to my property and showing them to other guests – I might even have a look myself if I hear good things and I have the time. I do have a problem with any attempts to actually build such extensions. Furthermore, you came to my house because you liked it – you call yourself a ‘fan’ – so if you do draw up extension plans have the decency to put effort into it: this means making sure you get everything (including spelling, punctuation, etc.) right. If you do not have the time or skill to do so, but have an idea for an extension you’d like to see: tell the other guests, I’m sure it would make the day of some of them to try for you. [Do not claim it is canon, claim it ought to be canon, or try to publish it anywhere but inside the fandom; no making profit or selling fanwork. Furthermore, if you claim to be a fan put effort into your fanwork: there are no excuses for poor spelling, punctuation, capitalisation or just plain bad characterisation and plot. This also goes for getting your canonical facts right. If you do not have the time to get it right, put up a story request in a community, etc, and hopefully one of your fellow fans will help you out.]

 

8. It is not symbolic. No, really, it’s not. Nor is it symbolism that I have subconsciously put into the work – I spend far too much time going over and revising my work for anything to slip in subconsciously. Assuming otherwise only shows that you, as guests, have absolutely no idea how much effort goes into the building and furnishing of a house – yes, even those of you who hold official university degrees and teaching positions in architecture and interior design. If I put symbolism into my house, you can be certain that I will specifically mention it. [If I haven’t specifically and clearly stated, in the story itself, that something is symbolic, then it’s not. Any ‘symbolism’ or ‘intentions’ you might have ‘discovered’ are merely the workings of your own – distinctly lacking – imagination. I don’t care how many degrees in literature you have: you don’t know my meanings or intentions better than I do.]

 

9. Any attempts to imply that the house was – in any way – your idea and/or to make a profit off of it will result in you receiving a boot up your arse on your (assisted) way out the door. [Do I really have to explain this one?]

 

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, if on any normal day you would not do it while visiting the home of your neighbour, your best friend or any random stranger: don’t do it in mine.

 


I still hold to a lot of those principles, but I’d like to think I could explain myself nowadays without being quite that condescending.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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Scrap Pile 2 – The God-Writer Metaphor

This is another piece I had originally intended for my current writing project, but which I found simply didn’t fit in the work.

 

Now, you may be thinking “How can anyone say writing has to make sense? Everyone knows the author is god for that world so if I don’t want to bother keeping track of what my background characters special powers, names, appearances and personalities are that’s totally, like, my choice”. Unfortunately, this idea that the god-author of a universe can do whatever they want with it comes with a fundamental flaw in the god-author metaphor: it doesn’t specify what kind of god the author or creator of a universe actually is. And when examined, it proves to not be the one you’d automatically think it is. You see, conceptually speaking, there is more than one type of god (and we are NOT getting into any actual religious debates here, okay? Whether or not I or anyone else believes in one or more deities, which I don’t, is irrelevant to the metaphor).

Most people when they think of a writer as the god of a fictional universe imagine them in a vaguely monotheistic form – a single, omniscient and omnipresent deity who is supposed to have total control and who created the entire universe (often with ease, which just goes to show how little some people know about how much effort viable writing actually takes). The idea of the author as a singular all powerful, unquestioned, creator-god is certainly tempting to the ego of those who write, but ultimately it does not gel with the common experiences reported by writers (phrases like “[character x] insisted on doing the opposite of what I wanted”, “I’ve got so many stories fighting to come out that if I don’t write my head will explode”, “the story just decided to go a different way”, “you [the readers] asked for more [blah] so…” and “my editor/beta suggested” are typical) . If the author of a work was a monotheistic omniscient and omnipresent deity, none of those things would be the typical experience of a writer.

Similarly, it might be tempting to expand the metaphor to say that the author is one of a dualistic pair of deities – the other being the editor/beta or story as it so pleases – but this is also not quite right. The story is the universe the deity creates, the editor – although a non-negotiable necessity – is not an equal creator as the author. Likewise, the author is not a deist deity; impartially creating the world and then letting it run amok as it pleases, because authors are actively involved in the path their work takes and find it to be not-unlike herding cats. So what kind of god is the author if the metaphor can work at all?

Congratulations, dear authors, you are but the head of polytheistic pantheons. The author, essentially, fills the same role as Zeus atop Mt. Olympus (although, I feel I ought to specify, Zeus was a third generation deity and did not create the universe – minor issue with the metaphor there).

The author is officially the ultimate power, as head King of the gods, but is forever struggling to deal with their shrewish and demanding Queen (editor or beta who, like Hera with Zeus, was actually – for all that she could be unreasonable – vital for keeping Zeus’ head from getting too big and to stop him from doing too many stupid things). The author is forever dreading the passing visits from and occasional wars with the Titans and Protogenoi who came before (such as Real Life [Gaea], Critics [Kronos], Publishing Houses [Rhea], Legal Issues [Tartaros], and Money [Ananke]).

It just gets worse from there, too, since as King of the Gods the author has people with their own opinions to rule over (and hope that, as Zeus did to Kronos and Kronos to Ouranos, no one of their children will overthrow them – that’s why he ate Metis and their daughter Athene came out of his head and why he married Achilles’ divine mother off to a mortal, by the way). That means having to keep a lot of people happy while keeping the world working as it should.

First come the other deities – the siblings (co-creators) and divine children of the king of the gods (characters) – and boy do they like to fight! Aphrodite is supposed to be going along plot A with Hephaestus, but instead keeps sneaking into plot B with Ares, which causes Hephaestus to go totally AWOL. Artemis shoots every plotline that gets near her, while Apollo is supposed to be off doing important things but instead chases Hermes around because he decided to fuck up a plot twist again. Demeter seems to be a perfectly compliant secondary or background character, but when Persephone’s plot goes a way she doesn’t like she starts ripping the setting to shreds (that was SUMMER by the way, not Winter – it was the fucking Mediterranean, after all). Dionysus gives everyone a case of writer’s block by insisting on being too drunk to make the plot anything other than a drunken I-give-up-party. Aphrodite and Athene fight over their prominence as characters while Hera-the-editor tries to strangle them both because she doesn’t like those characters. Meanwhile, Hebe’s whining in the background that she doesn’t get enough page-time (even though the fans love her and have invented a Fan Character – Heracles – to be with her), Athene’s whining about how Poseidon destroyed a background character (Medusa) in Athene’s (setting) temple, and Hades is hanging around in the back, refusing to do any work and snarking about how the story would probably work better if rocks fell and everyone died. Oh, and then, to top it off, the Titan Prometheus (another author of other works) decides to steal a major plot point off you and buggers off to leak the spoiler for free so that the author/Zeus can’t use it and they can take it for their book.

Then there’s the little people down the mountain. The readers. They’re always whining for something. More rains of angst so the crops will grow. Set a hydra on those people. Stop setting a hydra on those people. Pay more attention to this character. Pay more attention to that character. Don’t smite me for complaining about how you made the world even though I don’t like the way you made the oceans and the streets aren’t clean enough and I want more cows. Give us more heroes. Take away the heroes they’re making a mess. Make someone really pretty. Get rid of her: she’s too pretty. It’s little wonder that Zeus spent so much of his time as a drunken manwhore – and that Hera was always getting exasperated at him for that and chasing after the trouble he caused while doing it.

So, yes, the author is the metaphorical god of their fictional universe. But they aren’t a monotheistic, omniscient, omnipresent deity; they are but Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, fighting the urge to give up and get drunk in order to deal with all the editors, character and readers making demands of them and constantly aware that – as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Kronos overthrew Ouranos – if they fuck up too badly someone else might wrestle control of the rights away from them and take the position of King of the Gods of that fictional universe, leaving the original author exiled to Tartaros.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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Scrap Pile: Life Without Smell

At the moment I’m working on the first of my planned six books for the year (I decided I wasn’t getting enough done and challenged myself to get six first drafts ready by December 31st – sort of doing NaNoWriMo stretched over two months, six times in one year, except that I’ve beaten NaNo in five days and ten hours and have no interest in doing it again).

The book is writing advice (this is somewhat ironic given that I’m not published or making money yet) and I had a lovely metaphor running through it. Unfortunately, I had to excise some significant portions of analogous material because it was simply getting too complicated and too detailed. I wrote this section for the analogy and I didn’t want to have to lose it completely, so while it will never be in the book I decided to share it here. It was in a section on characterisation and was going to be an example in discussion of less obvious ways that character’s can have physical imperfections. It was also a really long paragraph.

 Life Without Smell:

Have you ever imagined life without a sense of smell? What about with a diminished sense of smell? Someone gives you flowers and enthusiastically mentions the odour, so you shove your nose right up into the centre and use the petals for cover as you try to school your face into an appropriate enjoying-the-smell-expression, because you have no idea what that’s actually like. You eat the same, often bland, foods all the time without getting bored of them, because you don’t really notice the taste anyway. You wear too much perfume or deodorant because you have no idea how much is enough for other people to notice. You can’t tell if the person you’re talking to has or has not bathed in a few days, so you make the wrong call on whether they’re friendly or creepy. You can’t smell pheromones (presuming they even have an effect) either, so if you’re heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual or homosexual you can (but don’t always) suffer from a distressingly decreased libido, while if you’re asexual you don’t really notice beyond being irritated by people who assume getting a sense of smell would “cure” you of your orientation (despite there being no causal relationship between anosmia and asexuality). You’re dependent on other people and use by dates with food that could have gone off but isn’t visibly so. You find it confusing when characters and people describe loving someone else’s scent (and you spend much of your life too embarrassed to ask if people really can naturally smell like vanilla and cinnamon like in all the romance scenes in stories). You write a scene set in a restaurant and describe everything but the odour lavishly – then your beta or editor complains that the whole thing seems unrealistic, either because of the lack or without explanation, and you can’t understand it because you described everything that was there …the idea that you should have described any odour at all isn’t one that occurs to you until someone else mentions that it was missing. That’s life without smell.

 

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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