A Letter to Authors Concerning Roller Coasters

7:44 PM Marcellino DAmbrosio 4 Comments

    It's funny how when you're sick, all you need is sleep, but your body just wont give you any because it decides that (now that you are in the zenith of your mental abilities) your highest priority is resolving the mysteries of the universe. Really, I've been up for two hours now just letting my fever pilot my mind like an aviator with a blood alcohol content of 5. Thoughts, memories, weird dream-like imaginings are flying by like clouds, and really have no idea which direction is up. My little plane keeps flying through one cloud (metaphor key: cloud=thought... ) over and over. It's the memory of David Corbett's solemn voice asking us all “What is your most profound moment of guilt? What is your most profound moment of shame? What your most profound moment of terror?” These words crash over my mind like waves on a beach; they boom like a gong from some ancient Chinese ritual. “What is your most profound moment of anger? What is your most profound moment of confusion?” That talk has been hatching like an egg, my brains membrane birthing through my skull.


So melodramatic I know, give me a break. I'm running a 100 fever, for godsakes. In any case, here it is: My hatched egg, a letter to all you beautiful authors.

          In an interview with Elizabeth Carlton, Corbett told the journalist: “In the black recesses of your mind, there is plenty that’s wild and grand and terrifying. I’m always amazed at how students respond when I make them dig up moments of profound guilt, or shame, or terror. The writerly writing fades away, and the truth comes out.” That, my friends, is the whole shabang, the goose that lays the golden egg, its the entire purpose of literature. To let the truth come out.

HARRRGGG!!! This one *huff* better be *huff* made of pure gdamned Gold!

         When I went to school and chose a major, at one time, I selected philosophy. I did that because I saw myself as a truth seeker, and I was under the false impression that philosophy is the place where the big questions are asked. What I discovered beneath the looming philosophy blackboard covered in powdery white chalk was an entire science that is completely devoid of human experience. Using phrases like “epistemology” and “logical positivism,” the students would argue about the big questions like “what is the purpose of life?” “is there meaning?” and “are we just brains in a vat?”

When the conversation ended, both sides carried on with their lives without another thought. Does morality exist? one man would ask, “or is it simply a biological, socio economic construct?” He would posit that no, morality does not exist. He would then promptly rush out the door to attend a LGBT meeting because discrimination is wrong. Similarly, a student would make the grandest argument for the existence of a creator, and destroy his opponent in the most condescending and humiliating way possible. It was what philosophers call “Leisure.”

I spend my leisure time reading ontological proofs of Gods existence!

          Instead of asking “is morality God given or a biological construct?” the author asks something far more profound and far more moving. The author asks: “what does it look like in a person's life when he or she violates the moral code? How does that person cope? How do they change?” When this question is asked in the depths of an engaging plot, inside a dynamic character's life, the most peculiar thing happens: the reader changes too. We've all turned the final page of that old torn up paperback, held the book carefully, pinning the binding together so that those precious pages remain locked as stones in the book's mosaic. We've all lifted that book till made contact with our cheeks, inhaled that wondrous, old library smell, put it down on our bed, and said: I will never see love through the same eyes ever again.

Cause now I'm on team JACOB!

Story has the power to change us. Story reveals the truth in a way that no theologian, scientist, or philosopher could ever reveal it.

         My friends, it's an undeniable fact that your audience is growing duller every day. No longer can you capture an audience with a powerful first page. Instead, you've got to capture your readers with a two sentence pitch and a helluva book cover. I worked in the writing center in college, and its a fact. The general public is barely literate. Western culture has declined and as has our attention span.


This is where the story gets very, very sad. literature is not just some vehicle for entertainment- it is not “the layman's philosophy,” as my ethics professor said and it is not at all like a roller coaster. If you have ever been to an amusement park; if you've ever fearfully accepted the challenge of a mile long steel track that dips you, twirls you about, causes your heart to pound adrenaline through you like a pump, if you've ever partaken in such a life altering experience, you might have noticed an unfortunate truth. The cars hum right back into the same covered tent from whence they came. It goes nowhere.
It's good to recognize that people want a ride that takes their breath away. But why on earth don't we recognize that a roller coaster does not necessarily need to end up in the same place? Who wouldn't ride a roller coaster to work if they had the opportunity? I would be much more excited to go to work in the morning.

Who are we kidding? I would wingsuit base jump to work if that was an option.

Excitement does not need to exclude meaning. Actually, I would posit that the two are mutually exclusive to a good story.

            David Corbett's central point in his speech that evening was that the human being is redefined in moments of deep and profound confusion. When a man is confronted with deep humiliation or guilt, his insipid “I'm a normal put together person” facade crashes to the ground. Behind this facade is a white sheet in splattered red letters that reads “I'm fucked up.” That man now, must face the fact that he is deeply broken. This is when those big questions that the philosophers ask matter. Not only that, but also in these moments, a written character ought to ask those questions because that's what human beings do. Thus, killing off a character's parent's is not a plot device. We don't go there because it “makes the character face something of a conundrum,” or because “we need more drama.” We do it because deep down, human beings are all seekers of truth. We love to see the facade fall down and grapple with meaning or the lack there of.
Alright my friends, here we go. It's example time.

          The Game of Thrones. The books were amazing and gripping, yes, but the TV show nailed it last Sunday. If you follow the show, all I need to say is this: Petyr Baelish.

This guy is my new favorite villain. For those of you who don't know his back story here it is: After his parents die they leave him with a noble title, but without any wealth or land, thus leaving him at the absolute bottom of the nobility hierarchy. Despite this fact, he falls in love with a noble woman. She is betrothed to another, and though he is a small man, he challenges her fiance to a duel. The stronger man soundly defeats him, but instead of killing him, he leaves him with a scar to remember his place. Most profound moment of shame—CHECK. We're still on a roller coaster, my friends, so far this is pretty dramatic stuff. Petyr, after this unhinging incident, broken down, shamed, wearing the mark of a “beta male,” makes an off page decision: “The only meaning in life is to “climb the ladder.”

See how that worked?
If you missed it, here's the formula:
Terrible event of profound shame and hurt – decision concerning life's meaning—character drama.
So how does this make for the most superb, terrifying, unhinging character drama that people watch the show for? This conversation right here:

Lord Varys:
I did what I did for the good of the realm.”
Petyr Baelish:
“The realm? Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Agon's enemies; a story we agree to tell each other, over and over and over till we forget that it's a lie.”
Lord Varys:
“And what do we have left when we abandon the lie? Chaos. A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”
cue scary music.
Petyr Baelish:
“Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”
slow pan over his prostitute who informed on him, she is tied to a bed and shot full of arrows.
Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. Some have a chance to climb, but they refuse, they cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. ILLUSIONS. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

           BOOM. That my beautiful authors is a terrifying villain. He's terrifying not because he kills prostitutes, but because he makes us ask the question “is he right?” He makes us ask an unhinging, life changing question: “Is that really all there is? Am I just clinging to illusions?” The roller coaster that is the Game of Thrones just took all its viewers to a new place.

           Thus, my friends, Entertainment and depth cannot be believably separated. I as a reader, am unbelievably tired of reading novels that don't take me anywhere. I know, however, many of you are thinking, “well if that's what you love, then go read literary stuff. Go read the classics, I'm writing a mid grade fantasy for the masses.” Pause for me while I go wrench my guts out... literally and metaphorically at the same time. So here's the deal. To accept that some people just don't enjoy depth is like saying some dogs don't like to lick themselves. Are we human beings or are we beasts? If you want to sell a shit ton of books, let your readers get off the ride in a different place than where they got on. Yes, in order to do this, you might have to get a little crazy. As David Corbet says: “You may need to tell yourself: Okay, I’m going to risk being wild and insane and black and grand. I’m going to write from where my fear is. Make sure your own heart is beating fast. Make sure you really, truly care.” Write us something powerful. Please.

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  1. If this is you while sickly... Be sure and keep me posted on your "well" posts! *slow clap*

    1. Yeah, I edited it when I got better. Trust me. It did not make ANY sense yesterday. lol

  2. Hey, don't knock all us mid grade fantasy writers. Some of us put our depth in allegory. :)

    To quote C.S. Lewis “At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of 'commenting on life,' can add to it.”

    Fantastic post, though, and I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. This is why Samwise Gamgee will always trump a hundred guidance counselor talks on the topic of genuine friendship. Stories stay with us and change us in a way philosophy by itself cannot.