To look across the wide seas of water and of time to Tirion the Fair and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Feanor at their work, while both the White Tree and the Golden were in flower. Gandalf, The Two Towers If you’ve read only the Lord of the Rings trilogy and not…
Around two years ago, Donald Trump ordered two U.S. Navy ships to bombard a Syrian airfield. During MSNBC’s coverage of the attack, Brian Williams infamously said, as footage of Tomahawk missiles launching into the night sky ran in the background,
“I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons,’ and they are beautiful pictures pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over this airfield.”
Right…so, that’s not great. However, I want to acknowledge the grain of truth here before I lay into him, because we have to recognize the terrible beauty that war can possess, even for those who have experienced it firsthand. In his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges describes the high of combat, the sharpness of your sensory experience, the rush of adrenaline, and how immediate and alive everything feels. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien says precisely the same thing of his experience in Vietnam. Both starkly illustrate war’s seductive (and, perhaps, ultimately fatal) allure for our species.
This seems as good a time as any for a confession: I’m decidedly a leftist, not a liberal. If that label comes loaded with too much baggage for your comfort (understandable, given the confusing and bloody history of the last 250-odd years), then maybe “anticapitalist” would serve better—anticapitalist in the vein of a Chris Hedges, Mike Duncan, or Jenny Odell, to be specific. If you read my post on social responsibility in storytelling, you may have picked up on this already, what with the potshots it takes at The Marketplace, as filtered through the publishing industry.
I want to come right out and say it, however, because although what follows is absolutely for everyone everywhere, I think those of us who stand opposed to the capitalist system are feeling particularly demoralized right now.
On Tor’s website, you’ll find a brilliant series of articles on the portrayal of PTSD in fiction. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend giving them a read before diving into this piece, but in brief, they argue that stories tend to handle PTSD (and mental health issues in general) pretty terribly. Often, characters will simply power through experiences which should leave them psychologically crippled (”Dresden Files,” I’m looking straight at you!), or deal with the trauma in a single, restorative scene, going back to their old selves immediately after. In other words, the trauma is often used as a simple plot device, which…well, let’s just say it should raise some serious questions for us as writers.
“Writing Matters” is the best creative writing program I’ve ever taken, and it was obvious from day one that our professors weren’t screwing around when they chose that title. Marilyn was ruthless when it came to amateur screenwriting mistakes like overusing exposition and flashbacks, and she’d get up in your face if she thought…