Saturday, February 16, 2013

Copyright and the Public Good

With the trend in recent decades being toward perpetual copyright protection, what will become of the idea of the public domain?

Traditionally, copyright holders lost their copyright after some number of years after death.  Their works reverted to the public, to be used and owned in common.  Over time, this has given us a rich shared cultural base of literature, and all writers, no matter what their attraction or aversion to "the classics" have benefited by this.

But with estates now holding on to copyrights in perpetuity, this stream of literature freshening the common ocean is being dammed off.  The idea that you descendants are more worthy of benefiting from your work is not only sort of selfish, it creates a sort of aristocratic system whereby, through accident of birth, you may be entitled to wealth you had no part in generating.  Tolkein's work, for example, should have already entered the common domain, and yet changes in copyright law (if I remember correctly, made in the early 1990's) extend this time till somewhere around 2060.  Plenty of time to get the laws changed again, to add on a few more decades.

A far worse example is the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose descendants control with an iron fist.  If ever there was someone whose writings and speeches should be made available to all, it's Dr. King.  And yet, they vigorously defend their right to profit from any use of his words or image.  This is a great harm done to society, and is not how copyrights were designed to operate.

I think this trend is wrong, and, as someone who owns many dozens of copyrights in a lot of different mediums, it occurred to me that I could do something about it.

First, using creative commons licenses, rather than traditional copyright protection.
Alternately, I could voluntarily forfeiting my copyright by posting it copyright free at some point.  I'm currently thinking that a voluntary limit of twenty years after I create it.  If I haven't done anything with it in twenty years, tough luck for me.

By voluntarily giving up our rights to control our work, we allow others to use and perhaps expand on it.  While this is unlikely, it might be nice to see someone use your work as the basis for their own.  Without copyright, they are more likely to be open about it, and acknowledge your work in theirs.  With everyone running in fear of copyright enforcement actions, it might be a breath of fresh air to see someone just putting their stuff out there for everyone.

I think that renouncing our copyrights while we're alive eliminates the possibility of them being held by our descendants (some of whom we might never know) forever.  It's sort of scary, but I think it may be a good way to go for society as a whole.  We're so used to thinking of protecting our prerogatives, it might feel pretty good to let everyone benefit, and give up our copyrights after a while.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Writing Uncomfortable Scenes

Our latest guest blogger is the infamous Eli Ashpence, author of “Genocide to Genesis”.  This is the first in line on my "read on a tablet" list.  Yeah, there really is such a list.  Regular readers of this blog are advised to follow my lead on this one!  The Uncomfortable Circle is created by the enigmatic Xeth at

When I first started writing, I was terrified of 'crossing the line'.  I wrote chaste love scenes rather than chance a reader's self-righteous anger.  And I wrote generic violence rather than face the nightmares I was capable of creating.

I got over my reticence, but it wasn't easy.  Everyone has subjects that make them uncomfortable:  rape, slavery, child death, torture, sexual sadism, drug use, etc.  There are times when a subject is so foreign that it becomes frightening for an author.  “Did I really just imagine that?”  And there are times when the subject is so close to home that it makes the author feels exposed.  “Please don't let them know I'm writing from experience.”  There are even times an author fears writing too well, out of fear of judgment.  “Anyone who reads this is going to think I'm a _____.”

 The first step to writing an uncomfortable scene is to accept that it makes you uncomfortable.  Identify your emotions.  Recognize the discomfort.... then run away.  That's right.  Run away.  No one is forcing you to write.  There's nothing wrong with backing off to gain some perspective.  Sometimes, simply knowing 'I don't have to do this' can relieve the pressure of 'I need to do this'.

By doing this, you're also recognizing that it's a 'need' instead of a 'want'.  When a scene becomes uncomfortable, it's not pleasure writing any more.  (If you don't need it and don't enjoy it, then what's the point of forcing yourself to write it?)  Undoubtedly, you're trying to make a point, provide an example, or give readers a few white hairs.  Identifying the need, instead of allowing it to remain a nebulous direction that must be followed, can help you get through those uncomfortable scenes.

There are times, though, when no amount of resolve or perspective will make a scene easier to write.  And that's when we come to techniques.

Chronological Outline
This is simple enough.  You start with a basic list of events in chronological order.  Don't describe anything yet.  This is only for action/reaction sake.

She puts needle in her arm.
Drugs pump into her veins.
Vertigo ensues.
Man enters room.
She can't move.
Man leaves.

Oh, how uncomfortable!  But--!  This type of simplistic outline tells you the minimum amount of action you need to get through the scene.  In some ways, the worst part is over.  You've written the scene.  It's on paper (or screen).  Now it's only about adding the senses.

She puts the needle in her arm.  She bites her lip at the prick of the needle against her flesh and eagerly injects pure Madness into her body.  Tossing away the used syringe, she quickly unties the rubber tourniquet.
Drugs pump into her veins.  She rests her back against the headboard and closes her eyes.  The throbbing in her arm spreads to her fingers, leaving a pleasantly numb sensation.  It spreads up to her shoulder and down into her chest until her body is forgotten within pulses of the universe.
Vertigo ensues. 

Using this method allows a writer to face each uncomfortable moment in bite-sized chunks, rather than forcing them to swallow the whole scene in one large bite. 

The Flashback
As you may or may not know, flashbacks remove the immediacy of a scene.  In essence, it's already happened.  So, you guessed it, write an uncomfortable scene as a flashback, then make it fit with editing!

(I could remember how) the taskmasters were cruel and quick to raise the whip.  (I could still feel) every stroke burned my skin and fried my nerves.  (Back then,) I wanted to take it from his hand and give him as good as he gave, but I was too afraid to stand. 

The taskmasters were cruel and quick to raise the whip.  Every stroke burned my skin and fried my nerves.  I wanted to take it from his hand and give him as good as he gave, but I was too afraid to stand. 

The Game
Imagine the reader's potential expression as you write each line.  This keeps you from thinking about your own reaction.  And, again, this method is reliant on editing if you write out the extra bits instead of merely thinking them.

Harvey slid his hand under my shirt.  (Ooh!  I bet they're already anticipating!)
I grabbed his wrist and pulled his away.  (That's what they get!)
He slid his hand behind my back and hugged me close so I couldn't escape.  (Fine, fine.  Let's get to it.)
As he leaned down, I pressed my lips together and turned my face away.  (Bet they're frustrated.)
He nibbled my ear as punishment.(*giggle*)
With my hand still on his wrist, he reached up to push my shirt from my shoulder.  (Uh oh!)
I didn't stop him.  (Let's make them slack-jawed!)

Harvey slid his hand under my shirt.  I grabbed his wrist and pulled his away. He slid his hand behind my back and hugged me close so I couldn't escape. As he leaned down, I pressed my lips together and turned my face away. He nibbled my ear as punishment.  With my hand still on his wrist, he reached up to push my shirt from my shoulder.  I didn't stop him.

Face yourself—Everyone has a closet nudist within them.  They have a closet exhibitionist, a closet voyeur, a closet sadist, and a closet masochist.  Most of the time, human beings don't like to face these 'shameful' parts of ourselves.  However, they ARE part of us.  All of us have the potential to be both assailants and victims, hunters and prey, dominating and submissive.  And sometimes we're uncomfortable because we actually enjoy walking on the dark side.  If this IS the case, then no amount of avoiding it will make it less comfortable.  Gather your courage, face it, acknowledge it, and harness it to make yourself stable.  Afterward, you'll be amazed at how much discomfort will vanish because YOU are in control.

Solitude—send everyone else out of the house while you write (or hide behind a locked door).  It DOES make it easier if you're not afraid of someone looking over your shoulder.  Get the scene over with, then take a shower or whatever you do to unwind. 

Alcohol—I don't recommend this, but I'd be a liar if I said I never drank a shot of whiskey to take the edge off before writing a scene. Just remember to put your car keys somewhere up high and don't touch them for the next twelve hours.

Split Personality—I'm not joking.  This works best if you have a pen-name, but the whole idea is to keep telling yourself 'someone else is writing this'.  And 'no one will know it was me'.  Even if it's a blatant lie, this is one instance where it's okay to lie to yourself for the short-term. 

Get it over with—Time only allows fear and discomfort to grow.  'Doing something' will always be easier than 'thinking about doing something'.  Don't get stuck in your head.  Get those fingers moving!

What are the hardest scenes for you to write?  How do you over come them?