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Descriptive Specificity

I’m pretty sure I didn’t properly cover this last time. Also, I’m going to be taking a hiatus – yes, even though I was late getting this out – until the start of October, for medical reasons. Sorry?

 

One of the biggest problems I see in a lot of writing is the meaninglessness of the descriptions given. Now, there are plenty of common descriptions which are evocative – or at least meaningful – and conjure an image on their own; everyone, for instance, will be able to picture roughly the same thing when the prose tells them that “Lord Doomdoom laughed maniacally and pulled the lever”. But what about “Princess Prettypink smiled. She had a charming smile”? Different people find different things charming. Saying that a smile is charming, but nothing else, doesn’t actually tell the reader anything (except that the author wants them to root for this character). A wide grin, with all teeth showing, can be charming – but so can a bashful little lift of a corner of the mouth, while biting the bottom lip. Which did Prettypink do? Or perhaps her smile was neither of those. There’s no way to tell, and no way to clearly conjure an image.

Meaningless, vague and cliché, descriptions do not describe the people, places, and things in a specific story. They – at best – conjure up a generic and hazy form. The charming smile on Princess Prettypink is not Prettypink’s smile. It is the same, generic smile that every badly written heroine wears at some point or another. There is nothing of her in it and, thus, nothing of it connects to her.

When you’re telling the readers about the people in your story (i.e. prose) you want them to imagine the people in your story. Not generic people. Now, obviously, I’m not saying you should never use descriptions like these – if every action was described in depth then every short story would be longer than A Song of Ice and Fire (and if you described a thing the same, unique, way every time the thing is mentioned; the reader will eventually tear their own hair out in frustration). The point is that it’s not good to only use generic descriptions. Real people all do similar things very differently. Ask yourself, for example, how your character smiles, not what is considered to be a charming smile.

Specificity, when correctly used, tells the readers far more about who a character is – and grounds the character in a realistic-feeling world – far more than generic or vague descriptions do. For example, there is technically nothing wrong with “Martha put a hand beneath her chin”, but it also doesn’t really describe anything. Palm down will indicate a different mood than palm up, and different again from the thinker-esque position of the chin on the fist and the palm inward – and that’s not even getting into the different ways finger position can be indicative.

If “Martha put her hand beneath her chin, which tilted her head sideways slightly as she listened,” it tells the reader that she’s got her hand slightly to the side – which is a more comfortable position, and the image it evokes (the tilted head and hand beneath the chin) is one of someone getting comfortable to listen to something they’re only half interested in.

But, if “Martha put her hand beneath her chin and tapped her fingernails against her lower lip”, the readers know that she’s thinking about something – perhaps dramatically to make a point – and that she has no intention of remaining in that position for long, because it’s uncomfortable.

Either way; the reader gets a far clearer picture of Martha than the generic description gives. Here’s another example – which version tells you more about the character?

Peony Prettypink lay in the grass, her long auburn hair around her like a fall of autumn leaves; sometimes brushing against her cheek, and her chest rose and fell gently as she slept.

Peony Prettypink lay haphazardly in the grass. Sunlight glinted off her nibbled toenails whenever she flexed her feet – as though she was walking in her dreams. Her nose twitched when the wind dragged strands of her tangled auburn hair across her face.

The first might be the prettier picture, but it’s a description which could apply to any redhead asleep in some grass. It’s not Prettypink specifically who is sleeping there. The second one is clearly a distinct person.

But it goes beyond just how you describe something. Choosing meaningful descriptions can also be about movements themselves. Why, for instance, automatically have someone settling in to listen put their chin in their hand? Why not say “Martha dropped an elbow to the table and made a loose fist behind her ear as she listened”? Then it becomes Martha, not a vague generic, who is sitting there listening. It grounds the character in the reality of their specific behaviour.

There is so much variety in even the tiniest of human behaviours. It’s a shame that so many authors prefer to stick with generic descriptions that they don’t have to think about to come up with.

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Posted by on September 8, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Dense Descriptions and Descriptive Density

I’m really overworked right now (and it’s not as people are desperately waiting for me to publish these) so I’m switching to putting up new posts fortnightly.

 

We all know the phrase purple prose. (If you aren’t included in “all” it means prose descriptions so convoluted and ornate that they intrude upon the story, render comprehension difficult, and often actually mean nothing or involve malapropisms and contradictory descriptions. In other words: it’s too complicated and fluffy for utility of writing.) Many of us have heard the phrase beige prose. (It’s overly simple prose. In other words: it’s too barren and brief for utility of writing.)  While both of those extremes of descriptive quantity are undesirable in writing, quality writing can be filled with or sparse with descriptions without being either of those unwelcome colours. It’s all about density.

No, not as in: being stupid. Nor as in: being difficult to follow due to being closely packed with ideas or complexities of style. Well, a little like the latter. But mostly as in: mass per unit volume.  Mass here meaning, well; meaning, and unit volume being: per word.

This is because, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, not all descriptive text is created equal. It’s possible to write pages and pages of description which are utterly worthless because they, ultimately, signify nothing, and it’s possible to write one word of description which is so evocative that it gives the readers one hell of a punch in the gut.

For example, which of these descriptions works the best?

“I’m sorry I killed your brother,” she said. She was guilty. (Description word count: 5)

“I’m sorry I killed your brother,” she bewailed dejectedly. There were no words for the crushing anguish of guilt which filled her heart like frozen water sinking a broken ship. (Description word count: 24)

“I’m sorry I killed your brother,” she said, her voice tight. (Description word count: 5)

“I’m sorry I killed your brother,” she said, her voice tight. She blinked rapidly, holding back tears, but held her head high – as if that would prevent drowning in grief. (Description word count: 24)

Okay, so none of them are particularly brilliant, given that I came up with them in under a minute, but they illustrate the point.

Option one is Beige Prose; there is no indication of the feelings until they are bluntly, and emotionlessly, stated.

Option two is Purple Prose; not only does trying to invoke the Titanic and its friends detract from the emotional resonance of the scene, the sentence also mixes its metaphors (something that fills as it crushes), and – worst of all – it tells the readers absolutely nothing about how that particular character feels and acts.

Option three isn’t the greatest sentence in the world, but it avoids both the others’ pitfalls, showing rather than telling and, although it has the same amount of words as option one, the description of action and the inference of pain from it tells the reader more.

Option four, meanwhile, has the same amount of words as option two, but they don’t just sit there looking pretty – each word tells the reader something. The emotional situation option two takes a confused metaphor or two and more than twenty words to explain, option four gives in eight (and adds to it characterisation – she’s drowning in guilt but trying not to and holding her emotions in) which leaves plenty of other words for more information and descriptions.

Both options three and four are reasonable types of description, depending on whether you prefer to write minimalist (the least amount of description necessary to get the story across) or with immersive and lavish description (the most amount of description to paint the world and characters without clouding the story). This is because three and four give the reader more information and emotion per word than options one and two. It is also because, all importantly, options one and two – by their under and over stated natures – don’t actually make sense.

And this is what I’m getting at: it’s not enough to have descriptions – large or small – in a work. You also have to understand why they’re there, what they do, and which ones actually function properly.

 

1) Description has to Orient the Reader: Despite what many people think, description is not an optional garnish for the story. Description serves a very vital purpose. This is because it is impossible to show the setting or characterise the characters without describing them. Without sufficient description – without description serving its most basic purpose – you get meaningless, feeling-less, blather by talking heads in white space. The reason that beige prose is bad prose is that it is insufficiently descriptive prose. Minimalist descriptive prose, on the other hand, still has enough description to orient the readers in both the space and the people. Despite the term “Scrip fic” in fanfiction, even real scripts require description of character and setting. Not as much as prose, admittedly, but still a sufficient amount to allow the set and actors to be made and perform appropriately and orient the audience. If a writer fails to put enough description into a scene, the readers will be quite justified in wondering why these toneless, un-embodied, people are floating around in the middle of nowhere. Tacking a quick description onto the end of the scene won’t help, either, because it either is too late to convince the reader that the character’s aren’t in blank space, or – if the reader has done the writer’s job for them and invented characters and a setting for the conversation – it will destroy the mental image and understanding which the reader has built up. Similarly, shoving a quick description at the start will only serve to make the readers wonder where the setting and feelings went. Without sufficient description to orient the reader, they are left dizzy, confused, and failed by the author who did not take the time to ground them in this new reality.

2) Description has to Suit the Setting: Have you ever had the misfortune of enjoying a typically Medieval-esque fantasy only to have your suspension of disbelief brutally slaughtered when something very loud or very fast was compared to a sonic boom? What about a story focused around aliens which describes the villain as inhumane? Or a story set in Victorian London where the prose (which should match the point of view character) described an airship as “cool” or a love interest’s “cute butt”? If you’ve ever encountered anything like that, you probably already get what I’m going on about here. The ONLY excuse for description to be mismatched with the setting is if the point of view character (or omniscient third-person narrator) is explicitly and deliberately being juxtaposed with a setting to which they themselves do not belong. (A book about a time traveller written in tight-third person or first person smartarse might well use descriptions that reference things which have not yet been invented, while an omniscient third person narrator has the pleasure of being able to tell you exactly how many nostril hairs a dog on the other side of the universe, ten million years after the story, has – if they should choose to wander away from the main narrative like that with regularity – or to discuss why a character’s opinion of something being described is inaccurate. Stories which are told from any other point of view than those do not have this pleasure.) Now, this does not mean that every single word has to be from the time and place in which the story is set – else every Medieval-esque fantasy would be written in Middle English – but the author does have to choose their words with care, and avoid those blatantly inappropriate for the setting but normal for the author’s life, so that they do not disturb the setting.

3) Description has to Suit the Character: The funny thing about prose is that, while it is not as directly form a character as their speech, it is still inevitably the story as told by someone. That’s what point of view is, and there is no way to write fiction without a point of view. It could be the protagonist, or a revolving set of characters, or an omniscient being standing firmly outside of the story (i.e. the author’s voice), but it’s still someone’s take on events. This means that the descriptions should be in tune with the character whose point of view the story is written in. An omniscient narrator, who describes every character’s appearance in a sort of oddball way, focuses on the less common features rather than the obvious, and always starts with each character’s worst features should not begin describing a love interest with a loving and traditional run down of their hair, eyes, and skin. A tight-third person story following a taciturn, plainspoken character who is focused on getting to the cells to rescue their comrade should not veer off to gush over the beauteous architecture and how the castle’s high towers touch the sky like little silver needles attempting to pin blue silk. You might think that’s the best description in the world, but if the character whose point of view the story, even in the third person, is told through wouldn’t even be looking at the sky – let alone considering it in poetic burbling – the prose shouldn’t be describing it. If you absolutely need to include a mention of the tall towers for plot and foreshadowing reasons: make it match the character (he might notice the pattern of shadows the towers cause and think about if that will help or hinder the upcoming escape, for instance).

Likewise, an extremely visual or poetic character – such as a painter or, you know, a poet – would be inclined to more lavish physical descriptions, so blunt and minimalist descriptions would not be appropriate. For instance: a painter or tailor confronted with a “green dress” probably would automatically categorise it by the appropriate shade of green, and possibly the fabric, “dress of jade silk” – but if the generic is always used, it starts to feel like the “expert” doesn’t know jack shit about their profession and trade. And that is also important: a character’s profession – and mood – will decide what they will notice (and thus what the prose will describe) as much as their personality will. Thieves will notice escape routes and the expense (and fence-ability) of items before they notice how beautiful something is. Visual artists will give more vivid descriptions of appearances, but chefs and perfumers will take note of how things taste and smell first. A detective will be more inclined to catalogue things factually, while a writer will be more inclined to describe things with indefinite language (it might be this, it could be used for that, why does that person have that, etc).

4) Description has to Suit the Plot: The balance between keeping prose true to the person (that is point of view) from which it is told and keeping your audience from strangling you for seemingly pulling details from nowhere, or constantly dragging their attention away from what is important to focus on décor, is a difficult one. Generally speaking, you need to introduce all the details – that is, describe the things – that are vital to the plot before they become vital to the plot. Or, to reverse Chekhov’s famous point, if you want to take a gun off the wall and shoot it in act three, you had damn well better mention that it’s there in act one. Likewise, if you want to take a gun off the wall and fire it in act three, you have to make sure – back in act one – that the wall is not so cluttered as to render the gun un-findable. To put that in plain English: any detail relevant to the plot must be described sufficiently for its relevance(minimum: a passing note that it exists, so that it does not seem to have been pulled out of the writer’s arse thin air when needed).

In beige prose the problem is that a thing will not be mentioned at all until it is suddenly needed – whether this is a gun on the wall, the fact that the characters are human, or even the location something is taking place in. This is how some, badly written, pieces have characters suddenly and dramatically falling down the stairs and dying, when so far the prose has given no indication that they are embodied and in a building, let alone near sufficiently fatal stairs!

In purple prose, meanwhile, the problem is that the author misbalances the amount of attention each thing described is given – thereby still managing to make the readers feel that they have pulled plot convenient things from their rectums. In these cases the author will give long and complex descriptions about just about everything – except those things which actually matter (location, things that are going to affect the plot, etc). This is how some stories (which will remain nameless) end up with a vague mention that the character is walking down the street, then give paragraph upon paragraph on what they are wearing, only to suddenly have the character nearly run over by a carriage – leaving the readers to wonder why the hell it was not earlier mentioned that there was a carriage racing down the street or, at the very least, that the setting was pre-automotive! (For the record, if a carriage were racing down the street so wildly that someone could be hit, the character should at least notice the sound of hooves and the yelling of people trying to get out of the way that would accompany it.) Likewise, if a character – especially if it is the introduction to them – is described performing some action that is not usually performed while armed (renovating a house, for example) and then when other characters sneak up on them, they suddenly pull out a pair of guns from nowhere; the prose damn well should have mentioned that they were armed before that point.

5) Description has to Suit the Pace: The wonderful thing about prose is that it does not – for all that the overarching feel of a piece should be consistent – have to stay at the same level of description the whole way through. The downside of this is that you have to match the amount of description to how fast the story should be moving at any given point …and many, many authors fall into the trap of assuming that the more important and climactic a scene, the more description it requires. This is how some epic, “fast paced” battles wind up with a paragraph’s description of the light shining off the swords, or the fighters’ clothes and faces, or the picturesque surroundings between every slash and parry. Descriptive prose is not a video camera, dear authors; what the camera tells us in a millisecond takes a page in the prose. Slow and steady, or interaction focused, scenes can bear the load of large descriptions because they have the time and breadth to do so. Fast, or action focused, scenes cannot because they are thin, wiry things and the weight will crush and halt them. This, for the record, is why it’s so damned important to describe what exists before you get to those fast scenes. If the prose describes the winding alleyways, slippery rooftops, and secret escape routes while the thief is on their way to steal the crown jewels, it saves the readers from being rightly pissed off when – later – the thief is apparently chased through white space which morphs into convenient escape routes as needed.

6) Description has to have the Correct Meaning: Vermillion is a kind of red. It is not green. Although livid can mean reddish, when someone is livid with strong emotion it means that they look strangled by it (discoloured and blanched – that is, pale – with a bluish tinge). Tenebrous is dark, gloomy, or obscure – it has nothing to do with being tentative. Greaves means lower leg armour. If your character is wearing their greaves on their arms, they should be both uncomfortable and looking for a new squire. I don’t know if there’s any more to say about this than: don’t just assume you know what a word means. Check and make sure that your description does not describe something different than what you thought you were describing. Very few words have exact synonyms. More often they mean something very similar, but not precisely the same – be that slightly different shades of colour, or intertwined but distinct feelings, or other gradients. Don’t just look up synonyms in the thesaurus: check the dictionary to see if the words the thesaurus gave you actually describe what you want to describe.

7) Description has to have the Correct Implications: Serviette and napkin both mean napkin. However, in Victorian London (and even, to a far lesser degree, today) which you chose to use would reveal whether you were upper (napkin) or middle (serviette) class. (Long story short: the new middle class tended to use fancier words to sound more posh, while the upper class – secure in their pedigrees – used plain English.) Now, that sort of distinction is going to be more important in dialogue than in prose, but it is important in matching the prose to the point of view the story is narrated from. This fun game, however, is not limited to class-distinctions. Two words with the same meaning can have different implications. Laid off and fired both mean fired, but the general understanding is that laid off wasn’t personal and fired was, not because they have an official difference in meaning, but because people generally use them that way. Fired is evocative of swiftness, anger, and the personal touch. Laid off brings up feelings of mass action, inevitability, and depression. And this, this, is why you can’t just decide to be a writer one day – why not everyone can be one – and why it is actually very difficult. Writing is about knowing the value – the implications, the mass density – of every single word, and knowing how to evoke the deepest and most accurate feeling from them. Implication is to writing as the affects of atomic weight is to science: it is not enough to know what the mean or weigh; you have to know exactly what they can and will do.

8) Description has to be Understandable: Despite what the writers of beige prose think, minimalism does not mean the smallest number of words. It means the smallest number of words necessary to clearly convey the meaning and story. Likewise, writers of purple prose tend to assume that vivid writing is cramming in as much description as possible and highlighting the descriptions, when it is – in fact –using more description in order to give more clarity, realism, and oomph to the story.

 

Don’t be described as dense, know the critical density of your descriptions.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Commonly Misused Words

Allergy: Physical reaction of “cannot cope” from the body, in response to some object contact. Not “I don’t like this”.  Having an allergy means having an abnormal (and often serious) medical reaction to a certain stimulus (an allergen). If you tell the people employed in a restaurant that you are allergic to something, you are asking them to clean everything an extra time to make sure you don’t die. If you’re saying that you’re allergic just because you don’t like something, you are physically not allergic and are metaphorically being a dick. Try just asking politely if they could serve whatever it is you’re ordering without the thing you don’t like.

Anarchy: Without government. Rejecting hierarchy. Without leaders. Leaderless. None of that, you’ll note, includes “chaotic hellhole of violent rampaging survivalists who immediately turned on each other once there were no richer, higher ranking people to tell them what to do” which is how anarchy is typically viewed. See, that second definition – the inaccurate one – is entirely from Hobbes’ view of human nature. Namely, that class systems (yes, Hobbes was what we would call Classist) were necessary because human nature was a cruel animalistic sort of thing. Now, that’s a gross generalisation, but you get the point. Yes, some people calling themselves anarchists have caused political chaos and yes some people who have been called anarchists by others have caused political chaos (such as Guy Fawkes who explicitly wanted to replace the government with a theocracy – a desire which absolutely excludes anarchy as they are completely incompatible!). But most anarchists, despite the word being usurped to refer to militant groups in political wars who just happen to want a different government than the one American news stations support, are not in agreement with Hobbes on human nature. Anarchists think that society without government – without leaders – could work. As in: it could be a functioning society. In fact, that it could be a better functioning society than any governed society. Why? Because genuine anarchists take the opposite view to Hobbes: they think that without class systems and leaders (and countries) to divide us humans would actually be better to each other. As in: anarchists – especially anarcho-pacifists, which is one of the bigger sub-divisions of anarchists – are probably more optimistic and peaceful people than most others. Because in order to genuinely believe that people would work together in a functional society if there were no laws (and thus no threats) to keep them behaving, you have to be able to look at all the horrible injustice and evil that humans do to each other and still be able to truly, truly, believe that humanity is, by nature, better than that. So next time you’re about to write that “the battlefield was anarchy”, stop and ask yourself: Is the battlefield really a society without government? Or is it just a bloody, chaotic, mess full of screaming people who aren’t actually sure what’s going on right not and are just out to save themselves? For that matter, which one of those options actually evokes the image you’re going for? I’m betting it’s the latter.

Assault: Not actually the same thing as battery. Assault is an attempt or threat of harmful or offensive contact with a person. Battery is actually managing it. If someone charges at you with a sock full of batteries: it’s assault. If they actually manage to hit you with the sock full of batteries: it’s battery.

Ichor: Not actually the infallible touchstone of the seventh rate. Nor, however, a generic garnish for gelatinous oozes and other slimy horrors. Ichor has two very specific meanings and two alone. It is either an acrid and watery discharge from wounds or ulcers, or it is the blood of the gods in Ancient Greek Mythology – in which case it is golden in colour and poisonous to mortals.

Interpret: To construe, understand, construct or render in a particular way. To make a hypothesis about what something could be, rather than to give a fact about what it was meant to be. It’s fine for a literary critic or English teacher to say “the author didn’t mean X but a reader can apply X meaning to it” just so long as they don’t do what they all currently do, while bellowing about why the author is dead, which is to say “the author meant X” when the author has said they did not. It’s also perfectly fine to say “the author said they meant Y, not X, but they did a really shitty job of incorporating that into the text and so a reader can easily interpret it to mean X”, just not “the author, who has said they did not mean X, meant X”. The only person who can know what someone meant is the person who meant something. Or, to clarify the difference between what someone meant and what can be interpreted from their words or actions: “I didn’t mean to stand on your foot” “Yeah, but you’re still on my foot and it hurts so get the fuck off”.

Literally:  Despite what the internet may have implied at you, “literally” does not mean “metaphorically very much”. It means “really” as in actually in real life happening really. For example, if someone says “I am just venting about this topic and do not want any responses because it literally gives me blood pressure problems to just think about it for a second, and it triggers my anxiety problems” they are not saying that it like metaphorically riles them a bit. They are saying that bringing it up at them, after a direct plea that you not do that, is going to cause them real life medical issues and, thus having been warned, that if you choose to do so anyway you are knowingly and wilfully causing them medical problems. Similarly, Jon Oliver metaphorically destroys social issues on his show, but literally destroys a piñata (not multiple piñatas). No, seriously. Go look that up on youtube.

 Meant: In all its forms, meaning is an intention. A thing can mean something different to many different people, but no one can “unintentionally” mean something. Something can have other potential meanings than the one you meant (that is: can be interpreted differently) but you can’t unintentionally mean something. Meaning is by definition an intention. So when your English teacher or friendly local literary critic tells you that “the author meant X” when the author has explicitly said “I did NOT mean X”, they are a liar. They also think they know better than the original creator and yet, at the same time, they don’t understand the definitions of basic English words. What these people are trying to say, I presume, is; “The author meant X but it’s not explicit in the text and therefore it can also be interpreted by other people in way X”.  But they really need to actually say that.

Poisonous: Not the same as venomous. No, really. In the former case you die if you bite it, in the latter case you die if it bites you. Poisonous can also refer to gasses and liquids, but neither of those is going bite you. Typically the mix up here is writers describing snakes or arachnids as poisonous (which they technically could be, but in which case you need to show your character eating them) rather than, say, super-intelligent clouds of carbon monoxide swooping around and nipping at people.

Reign/Rein/Rain: If you “reign” in your horse, you are the ruling power inside your horse. If you “rain” in your horse you are a cloud precipitating in a most disturbing location. If, however, you “rein” in your horse, you’re just exerting pressure on the bridle in order to control the animal you are riding.

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Is Bloody Hard to Pull Off

This is getting out of hand. I’ve discussed why it’s not okay to try to deny a story is fantasy because you don’t think fantasy can be quality in part one, why fantasy doesn’t deserve scorn in part two, and what fantasy actually is in part three …of a post which was only supposed to have one part. Now I’m going to talk about why Fantasy is actually – contrary to popular belief – the HARDEST genre to write.

The notion that motor-cars are more “alive” than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious; that they are more “real” than, say, horses is pathetically absurd. – Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

In fiction, what is real is what can be made to seem real. An unbelievably portrayed car, for instance, can make it impossible for a reader to accept the fiction as real, and a believably portrayed dragon can hold that belief even though it is less easily accepted and more rigorously scrutinised. We accept what we view as the reality around us as being real. We believe in it. We do not believe in things which we have learned, through our experiences and lack thereof, do not exist in our reality. All fiction hinges on the ability to make the reader put what they know of reality to the side for the moment – to Suspend their Disbelief. In order to do this, in order for the reader to be able to accept this, it must seem to function as reality. Not the same as reality, but as if it were reality. All fiction must be realistic in order to be (temporarily) believed. All fiction must be (temporarily) believed in order to be enjoyed. The more out-of-normal-reality things you pile upon the reader, the harder it is for them to believe in what you are showing them. The author is an illusionist and the reader is far more willing to accept a coin pulled from behind the ear (obviously a sleight of hand) than sawing a woman in half without killing her (…something to do with mirrors, I think). By default, then, the more out-of-reality elements a work, or genre, contains, the more difficult it becomes to suspend disbelief and, subsequently, the more challenging the genre is to write.

Think of it this way:

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Drama, Crime, and other totally real world other than invented characters fiction (such as “literary fiction”), the only illusion the author must successfully make is that of the main characters existence. The only thing the audience needs to be made to believe – to suspend their disbelief on – is that these people could exist.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Sci-Fi, the author only needs to create two illusions: that the scientific extrapolation (gadgets, alien life existing, etc) they are making could be true and that these people could exist.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Horror, only three illusions have to be maintained: that these people exist, that this phenomenon exists/could happen, and that it’s fucking terrifying.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Fantasy, however, the illusion of reality that the author must create (without which disbelief cannot be suspended and on which all successful storytelling hinges) is of pretty much EVERYTHING. This is because the story must, at once, both present the normal laws of physics as existent, and show a force, as real, which is in direct contradiction to them – i.e. magic, the supernatural, whatever. It is also because, most of the time, Fantasy is either not set in our world – necessitating that the audience suspend disbelief on an entire out-of-reality world, complete with its own laws of physics – or asks us to believe that we’re all stupid enough to somehow miss magic in our own reality.

Now, a lot of fantasy doesn’t put in the sort of grounding effort of realism that, say, George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien do and, thus, their fantastical elements cannot be believed (all suspension of disbelief is used up elsewhere). Nevertheless, for fantasy to work suspension of disbelief must be applied to the very way the universe works, as well as to the characters existence and so forth. Fantasy isn’t the “easy” genre. Fantasy is the HARDEST. The illusionist who saws a woman in half in a glass box has far harder time of it than the one using an opaque box. Fantasy is that transparent box – the impossibilities of the world are in full view, whereas what Sci-Fi and Drama need to suspend disbelief on is carefully covered with the firm, real, opaque box of the Known and Possible.

And, coming full circle to what started this series of posts in the first place, THAT is why it is not right to try to deny that high quality Fantasy – like A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones – isn’t “really” Fantasy because it’s good.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Has Its Own Worth

Welcome to Fantasy IS Fantastic, part three. Better known as what happens when you yammer on too long about what you want to say, instead of saying it, or why part two should never be allowed to take steroids.

Okay, so last time I talked about how and why fantasy is disparaged by fans of other genres and society in general – and I failed to get around to what I actually intended to talk about. To avoid a similar mishap this time, I shall get straight on to the two issues which need to be discussed. To save you having to go back and check what I said last time, I will quote myself: “This disparagement of fantasy comes from two basic errors. The first is the fallacy that because fantasy can include things which could not be in reality that anything goes – and therefore that it is the “easy” genre. The second is a fundamental failure to understand what fantasy actually is.”
Huh. Pretentious much? Well, I never claimed to be perfect. In fact, in hindsight I now realise that I should have listed those two fallacies in the order they would have to be discussed rather than the order which sounded best. Oh well.

 What is fantasy? There is a common misconception that fantasy is about dragons and medievalism and magic, although not all fantasy has those aspects and not all stories with those aspects are fantasy. Likewise, science fiction is not merely space tits and death rays fiction, nor is horror merely jump scares and vampires. This is how they are commonly viewed, due to a typical error of assuming the thing is the same as what is often used to wrap it, but it is highly inaccurate. At its core, each genre pulls at a different emotional or psychological (or even physical) aspect of the reader. In most non-speculative genres it is very easy to see this:

  • The core of Erotica is arousal.
  • The core of Romance is attraction.
  • The core of Comedy is humour.
  • The core of Mystery is puzzlement (and the solving of puzzles).
  • The core of Adventure is curiosity.
  • The core of Action is aggression.
  • The core of Historical Fiction is nostalgia.
  • The core of Tragedy is grief.
  • The core of Drama is grief (this is because drama and tragedy were – to the Ancient Athenians responsible for their invention – the same thing; there was no differentiation in genre between the possibility of terrible things happening and their actually having happened).

These make sense. After all, to use the most straight forward example, no one reads Erotica for puzzlement (save, perhaps, baffled teenage Asexuals trying to understand why everyone their age has suddenly gone insane).

However, if you try to apply this to Speculative Fiction while only looking at the trappings of it, is simply doesn’t work.

  • The core of Science Fiction is NOT spaceships.
  • The core of Fantasy is NOT wizards.
  • The core of Horror is NOT things going bump in the night.

So what is?

We often talk about Hard and Soft, or Technical and Social, Science Fiction – an idea started by Isaac Asimov in his 1953 article “Social Science Fiction” (in Modern Science Fiction) when he suggested that all Science Fiction plots fell into one of three categories: Gadget (“Look, I’ve invented a car: this is how it works”), Adventure (“Oh no, the bad guys stole my newly invented car, we must rescue it!”), and Social (“Some idiot invented cars, now we’re all stuck in traffic”). But those are distinctions within the genre, not the core of the genre itself. Nevertheless, it does illustrate quite well what the core of Sci-Fic actually is. Every plot type, you see, hinges on scientific knowledge being extrapolated into something new.

The core of Science Fiction is comprehension. It is knowledge – both current (science fiction being based on current scientific fact) and future (what possible advances in knowledge can be theorised from current scientific fact)

  • The core of Science Fiction is THE KNOWABLE.
  • The core of Horror is, of course, THE FRIGHTENING.
  • The core of Fantasy is THE UNKNOWABLE.

And that is why I spent so much time, last time, talking about how the arrogance of humans – in their belief that they will one day understand everything in the universe – results in distain for fantasy.

Now, this might sound totally crazy, given how strongly how strongly fantasy is tied to magic, but answer me this: what is magic? Not; what kind of magic are you playing with? What is magic? Magic is a term for things that exist but which science cannot explain. Not “hasn’t explained yet”: cannot explain. Science is a system of making sense of the universe which doesn’t work on magic. And this is precisely the point. Magic is the most common term for this, but it doesn’t have to be “magic” to be the incomprehensible-unknowable that is present in all fantasy (because it is, in fact, the core of fantasy). Magic is, also, easily confused with the knowable – even though it is not actually comprehensible. This is because people often conflate coping with something (learning to do spells, for example) with the ability to understand something (there is not a single work of fantasy out there which can explain why magic can break the laws of physics which otherwise govern the universe it is in – and no work which did give and explanation could truly be fantasy). A way of coping and the ability to recognise a specific phenomenon is NOT the same as being able to understand it.

To illustrate: In Science Fiction the characters come across, or create, a phenomenon and proceed to understand it. In Horror the characters come across a phenomenon and proceed to be scared shitless by it. In Fantasy the characters come across a phenomenon and fail to understand it, forcing them to accept and cope with its status as incomprehensible. Now, this does not need to be overt – both because the presence of the unknowable, or incomprehensible, will inevitably subtly touch upon itself in the background of coping with it, and because the incomprehensible lends itself to themes such as good versus evil (the paradox of right and wrong) and the question of death.

Fantasy is a liminal genre. But the threshold upon which it stands is that between what can be comprehended and what cannot. Sci-Fi, on the other hand, stands on the threshold of what is currently understood and what is going to be understood. This is why all Sci-Fi stories which end with the “some things man’s not meant to know” cliché fall flat. The audience is not reading or watching Sci-Fi to experience coping with the unknowable. They are reading or watching Sci-Fi to cope with what is known and the process of coming to know more. Fantasy is the genre readers and viewers go to when they want to cope with, or experience others coping with, that which cannot be explained or comprehended. Horror is about being scared by either the known or the unknown.

Or, to put it in simpler – yet far more laden – terms: Science Fiction is about the expansion of the Self, whereas Fantasy is about coping with the Archetypal Other. WAIT! Don’t panic. I’m not going to start quoting Sartre at you. Instead I will direct your attention to the fact that, after variations on “Dark Lord”, variations on “the Other/s” is one of the most common and recognisable terms for big bads in fantasy.

The importance of Fantasy as a means for coping with the incomprehensible and unknowable cannot be understated. The Archetypal Other can be incomprehensibly huge – when the Other is not our universe or other than life (cosmic horrors, existential dread as related to the question of death, etc) – and it can be painfully close to home; not only in Us vs Them and the Othering of those we reject socially, but also in that we can never truly understand another person. Other people, other races, other species, phenomena which follow other rules than the norm of the universe, other states of being or not being; these are all things which ultimately we can never truly comprehend – which frightens us – and which, at the same time, we dread because our nagging doubts make us wonder if we could become like that or might already be that way. Ultimately, we fear the Archetypal Other because we fear that we may become something which we are incapable of understanding. And that’s why Fantasy is so important. Because without Fantasy as a coping method, all we have is fear – Horror.

This key difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, between knowledge and the impossibility of knowledge, is best expressed by considering the third major genre in the umbrella of Speculative Fiction and why, perhaps subconsciously, it has been placed with the other two. This is because fear is a reaction to both the known and the unknown and thus Horror cannot exist without one of the other two. Thus Horror, roughly speaking, comes in two forms: that dealing with real or soon-to-be real dangers and fears, like serial killers wielding Jigsaws and Aliens, and that dealing with incomprehensible or inexplicable dangers and fears, such as the House of Leaves, Stephen King’s IT, and most things written by H.P. Lovecraft. Or, in other words, the two main forms of Horror are that which falls under the genre of realistic extrapolation (Sci-Fi) and that which falls under the genre of trying to cope with the incomprehensible (Fantasy). Fantasy is looking at Eldritch things humans cannot comprehend (like magic: laws of physics which do not follow physics and appear to be utterly lawless) and finding it within oneself to see beauty as well as Cosmic Horror.

“We find it difficult to conceive of evil and beauty together. The fear of the beautiful fay that ran through the elder ages almost eludes our grasp.” – Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

But this, precisely, is what Fantasy allows us to do. We no longer view magical creatures as a terrifyingly incomprehensible reality, as our ancestors did, but we still find the archetypal Other frightening and difficult to perceive as something which is not terrifying. This is also, perhaps, why Fantasy lends itself so strongly to the notion of Good Vs Evil. This notion allows for both the fear of the Other and the acceptance that some things cannot be understood to be expressed. And that’s a hell of a lot for one genre to (inherently) have to handle. There is no easy way to handle Fantasy because the core of the genre is our deepest unease.

But this is, once again, getting a bit long and I don’t want to rush my last point. So I’ll see, or not see depending on how you liked this, you next time in the (hopefully) final part four: Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Is Bloody Difficult to Pull Off.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Needs No “Secretly Sci-Fi” Justification

I’ve been thinking for a while about how better to explain what I talked about (the difference between meaning and interpretation and why saying “the author meant” is not acceptable when the author has said otherwise) in the Death of the Author post without causing myself further blood pressure problems. It occurred to me that I had a very good example of how the Death of the Author has come to be misused in the rant on the worth of fantasy which I had been planning to do for a while.

What example? Well, there are an alarming number of Game of Thrones fan theorists (and even some of the actors!) who said that ASOIAF/GoT isn’t “really” fantasy and that it is really historical fiction/drama/sci-fi because it’s good quality and fantasy can’t be good. This is despite the fact (actual fact, not supposition) of what the author describes it as, what the publishers identified it as, and the fact that it contains fucking MAGIC.

Certain theorists even went so far, in pushing their “GoT is REALLY sci-fi” theory, to say that because GRRM wrote a lot of sci-fi before GoT must be sci-fi. The fallacious logic in that reasoning seems to have been that writers are only capable of writing in one genre and anything that disproves that must secretly be that genre anyway.

Here’s some actual proof that such reasoning and Fantasy-denial is absurd:

“Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true? … We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. … They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”

That’s a quote from George R.R. Martin. It’s from an essay of his called On Fantasy and it can be found on his website.

Now, if I was too daft to understand the difference between meaning and interpretation I might say that this is proof that what these people really mean is that they are too cowardly to admit that they may have been wrong to dismiss fantasy as “not quality” in the past and that they are therefore desperately clinging to the idea that it “can’t really be fantasy” in order to avoid admitting, even just to themselves, that they were wrong.

But unlike far too many literary critics, English teachers and fan theorists, I DO understand the difference between meaning and interpretation (and understand what the word proof actually means). So instead I will say: dear people who insist that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones cannot be fantasy because it’s good; all you are doing is making it sound like you once looked down on fantasy and are now too pathetically afraid to admit that you might have to change your opinion.

See the difference? I’m not telling you what you meant. I’m telling you what it seems like you may have meant. And that’s how does all of this ties into what I was saying last time about the misuse of the Death of the Author and why it needs to stop. It’s not okay that they’re saying (because they don’t like fantasy) the fantasy book is in fact a [insert genre of choice]. It’s not. It can also be interpreted as [other genre] but it is still a fantasy. The only fact about a book’s genre comes from which genre the author and publishers place it within. Everything else (from fan theorists, actors, literary critics, and English teachers) is interpretation, not fact, and should not be presented in the language of facts (“is” “meant/meaning” “really meant/is”, etc).

Here: have a comparison. If you go out cloud gazing you will see clouds. That is a fact. They are clouds. There is nothing to debate on that and no ‘one true theory’ to prove. They’re clouds. The beauty of cloud gazing is that you can look up at those clouds and ALSO see ships and castles, dragons and ice cream cones. But your interpretation of that cloud as an ice cream cone does not make it an ice cream cone instead of a cloud. It’s still a fucking cloud. Your friend might see a chainsaw wielding clown instead of an ice cream cone. Neither of you is right and neither of you is wrong. Each of you has a valid interpretation – because all interpretations are valid ways of looking at something – but no matter how valid your way of looking at the cloud (as an ice cream cone or otherwise) is, that does not make the cloud any less a cloud. Nor does it actually turn the cloud into an ice cream cone.

And this, I think, is something which gets forgotten all too often – by fan theorists who can’t bring themselves to admit that fantasy can be quality literature, by English teachers and literary critics who cannot accept that they should be saying “it can be interpreted as” rather than “it is” …all of these people who are seeking to find “the truth” about a book or “prove” their theory about what something “meant”. (Note: meant is an intention word: if you are saying the book meant something you are saying that the author meant something. Do not put words in people’s mouths. It’s rude and insulting.) In other words: these people are treating art as if it is science. It’s not. There is no “one true interpretation” of a work. There is no prize for figuring out the “truth” about what something “means”.  There is what the artist meant (their intentions) and what other people see in it. There is just the one cloud and people imagining ice cream cones and castles in it. But those ice cream cones and castles are under no obligation to actually be there. Art isn’t science. Science is the realm of single correct answers and definite truths. Art is the realm of one creator’s meaning (“Look, a cloud!”) and all the ways the audience can say “that cloud looks like an ice cream to me”.

That IS the beauty and glory of art.

 

(This is getting a bit too long for me to say everything else I want to say, so tune in at some point in the – hopefully – near future for Fantasy Is Fantastic, Thanks, part two.)

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2016 in On Writing

 

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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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