The First Run

It was a shade before four in the morning, still dark and as I walked down the street I saw a crowd along Morato blocking traffic. Underage girls were pouring out of a club, their dresses glimmer and glitz and their faces smeared with lipstick and drunkenness, and on their arms their boys, drunk too and unsteady flagging cabs. The crowd collapsed into itself as a scuffle began and I made me way further down the street to the meeting spot. It was not too long ago that I might have been stumbling out of a club myself, drunk and unsteady and grasping for something, anything, to make sense of the night. But this morning I was up at three and I was dressed in a runner’s singlet of white and orange and it became clear to me that I was a different person. The fight broke out behind me and I strode away, met up with friends from the gym, and we rode off to BGC together.

We waited for the race to start and for other friends from the gym to arrive. As we stood in the parking lot someone yelled my name and I turned in answer. I did not know anyone else who had joined the run, apart from the gym dudes who had invited me. I whipped my head around, looking for a familiar face among the crowd of white and orange jerseys. Instead it was two girls, with high heels and shrill laughs, stumbling to a car with their boys. I recognized them quickly as former students from when I was teaching high school, but the surroundings and circumstances made it difficult for me to process the situation.

“Are you running, sir?” the one I was more familiar with asked.

“Yes. Are you drunk?”

“No,” she lied and laughed as a boy took her and led her away and I watched them all walk away, their path serpentine as if they were trying to dodge bullets in slow motion. The thoughts returned of how, it felt just like yesterday, that at four, five in the morning I would have been heading home from partying and being drunk. I was supposed to have been partying hard on Saturday night and welcoming the Sunday morning sun with a shot of whiskey in my hand. But no, things had to change. And though I missed the partying hard (and I believe I might still be able to do it every once in a while) that time had passed and I had lived that up, being wild enough for many lifetimes over.

Then my group watched as the first set of runners, who would be going 21K and who would still be running by the time we left the venue, were sent off. Then came the 10K runners, then 5, and finally us. In the group I was with, I was the most physically unfit, as most of them had been hitting the gym for at least a few months, some had been doing it near daily for two years, and we were also with one of our gym instructors. We made jokes to assuage the embarrassment of running the shortest available distance. We noticed that for a few moments we were surrounded by the elderly and children who were also part of the 3K run.

As we were called to the starting line the group became more heterogenous, and we went through stretches and looked at the people we would be running with. It was a mix of young and old and middle-aged and those, like me trying to keep a grasp on youth while slipping into their 30s. The gun went off and so did we.

Our group broke apart as the better runners among us sprinted forward to leave the crowd behind. I chose to pace, allowing the first wave of strong runners to pull far ahead but staying ahead of the next wave. I figured that I could stay somewhere in the middle of the pack and acquit myself respectably with a good first run.

I maintained pace for a few blocks, skipped the first two water stations. At the third, which was near the halfway mark, I was wheezing but I managed to keep pushing until I was in the direction headed back. I took the water station stop as a chance to catch my breath and walk for about thirty seconds, then I was off and jogging again. I kept near the front of the middle pack until, after about five more minutes of jogging, I could not maintain pace and I fell back, hands on the top of my head as I tried to take in more air. Another turned revealed a long street, and this street had a garbage truck smack dab in the middle of it so I gulped down, sprinted past the garbage truck, then slowed when I had passed it and its fumes.

While in my head I had rationalized 3K as a short distance, and in fact had that morning been contemplating making it a 5K run instead (it’s only about one and a quarter acad ovals right? I walk that in a cinch!), I found my feet feeling leaden and my knee starting to groan.

I knew that I could not just walk the rest of it. I had to push myself to find a way to keep running. Also, walking was boring and I was liable to just quit if I got bored.

I realized the best way to get through the run. Do what comes naturally. And so I found a pretty girl, and I ran behind her and tried to keep pace. She would run and so would I. And when she slowed, I did too. For about a half a klick I followed the pretty girl’s pace, her long strong legs leading me on. And then with a sprint she was gone and I was left alone chugging along. While maintaining a jog I turned a familiar corner and saw the condos of Serendra. Then I was pushing past the Fully Booked building and turning another corner and  there was the big digital clock, screaming red and I did not even bother to check the time and I put my head down and plunged forward and past the finish line.

Some of the guys from the gym came in the top 20. I came in the middle of the pack. I caught my breath and kept walking. The sun had come up and it was warm and glowing and I felt a burning, through my jersey and through my skin and it went through my chest and became a yelp and an exhalation. And I ended my run.

You Need to Read

The semester begins and with it I meet a new crop of creative writing students. The ongoing debate over whether creative writing can be taught is far from being resolved. I approach it in the same way that I think of sports talent. There will be people who will just never be able to grasp it, no matter how much work they put in. And then there are the Jameses, Bryants, and Durants whose skills seem innate, who would have been great through sheer talent and then took the time to hone their abilities. Both sets of people fall on the edges of the bell curve. The middle of the curve allows for people of varying skill and talent abilities, and within that middle, there is always room for improvement and development. And in the same way that one’s development in basketball relies on being on the court, so too does an aspiring writer’s development rely on spending time with the written word.  Read more of this post

Writing Tips!

I compiled these from notes made in the second semester of last school year. I would be reading student works and then writing notes like these, then presenting my notes to class for future improvement. But I thought that maybe this sem’s students would benefit from hearing these off the bad. And maybe other people online might get something out of it too. Anyways, here you go, a few tips on how to write better.

 

WRITING TIPS

  1. Show Don’t Tell.
  2. Why are you writing? What are you trying to say?
  3. Writing is an act of hubris. Live up to your hubris.
  4. Make the reading worth the reader’s time. With the ubiquity of content, attention is a scarce resource. Don’t waste it. Make things matter, make the reader care about what’s going on. Reward their attention.
  5. When you write about something, it probably matters to you. The challenge is to make it matter to the reader.
  6. Know how much of yourself to put into the piece.
  7. Set the table.
  8. Let your ideas develop. If you hit on something, take it as far as it can go. If it doesn’t work you can always edit it. But if it could have been good and you didn’t pursue it, there’s no going back to it.
  9. Try to have amazing story openings and endings. It’s like a plane ride, once you’re cruising it’s fine, but you have to make sure you’re really doing well when you take off and when you land because those are what people remember most.
  10. Don’t go for twist endings. Set things up right. It’s not surprise, but resonance we want when we walk away from a story.
  11. Stories are made of scenes.
  12. Make things happen! Events! Confrontations!
  13. Don’t avoid confrontations. Build them into your work.
  14. How do you build drama? How do you make something engaging? Technique. You start with ideas and inspiration, but it’s technique that makes the writing work.
  15. Hold back. Restraint makes things more painful. Don’t give in to the cheese.
  16. Have an awareness of other stories similar to the ones you are writing so that you can avoid cliches and put your own touch on your work.
  17. Establish transitional devices, physical and literal markers, items, etc, which enable flashback, jumping through time, and dream sequences.
  18. There has to be a reason for a character recollecting the past. Something must be at stake in the present.
  19. Character deaths must be earned. If you kill characters we don’t care about, then their deaths hold no meaning.
  20. The God argument invalidates everything in your story. Make your characters the agents of their destinies
  21. How many of you have ever told a complex lie? You have to build in truth, build in details, so that the lie is believable. It’s the same with fiction.
  22. Write with clarity. Writing is communication.
  23. Don’t waste words. Say only what needs to be said, no more, no less.
  24. Be precise in your word choice.
  25. You don’t have to use big or complicated words. This is creative writing, not academic writing. If you can say it with one syllable, why bother with a longer word?
  26. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Use nouns and verbs.
  27. Don’t rely on punctuation and typographical gimmicks, especially ellipses. Use the right words and the right emotions will be conveyed.
  28. If you say of your character, “You would never notice him/her…” or “He’s the typical…” then that doesn’t create interest. It’s not where the character is like everyone else, but how they are different that makes them intriguing.
  29. Why refer to your characters as normal, typical, or the usual (or geek or nerd)? These don’t create or unlock meaning. Choose details, work at illustration, and describe. If an artist doesn’t draw something, we can see that it’s missing. It’s the same thing with words.
  30. Dialogue should function first and foremost as dialogue. It shouldn’t be there for exposition, so that characters can explain things they already know to each other. It should sound realistic, sound like people actually talking. Good dialogue characterizes, pushes the plot, and provides information all at once.
  31. Have you ever watched dancers or actors who look bored while performing? No, because they know they have an audience, and they have to be at performance level. Writing is a performative act too. You readers can tell when you’re bored, lazy, or not into it.

Reading List for Creative Writing 10 (Creative Writing for Beginners)

Last year at the Manila International Literary Festival I presented a teaching plan that was styled differently from the usual syllabi. Other syllabi usually when chronologically or by genre or theme. My plan took from those ideas (and it could be seen arguably as both chronological and genre-based still) but it focused on the output that the students would be expected to submit. As such, I went for different ideas, effects, and genres, all coming together. Students would be expected to deliver pieces in each category which would be workshopped by their classmates. That way, even though we are working in only two genres, they will still be producing a variety of stories.

I recently revised my syllabus for the start of the semester, and here’s my reading list:

Make It Fun (We start with the basics of writing, and how it all stars with a sense of fun in both the writing and the reading.)

“Let it Snow” by David Sedaris

Excerpt of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Make It Interesting (I ask students to write about their field of study or their hobby, in such a way that would make others interested.)

“Why Businesses Don’t Experiment” by Dan Ariely

“Food is Good” by Anthony Bourdain

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know (Pretty self-explanatory)

“How David Beats Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell

“Secret Skin” by Michael Chabon

Make Me Cry (Tugging at the heartstrings)

“A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver

“Firefly” by Haruki Murakami

Make It Fantastic (Fantasy writing, set specifically in the Philippines)

“The Impossible Life and Loves of Doc Duwende” by Angelo R. Lacuesta

“The Gyutou” by F.H. Batacan

Make Me Hypothesize (Sci-Fi!)

“They Toynbee Convector” by Ray Bradbury

“A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale” by Charles Tan

Make Me Scared (Horror!)

“Man Overboard” by Winston Churchill

“To Serve Man” by Damon Knight

Make Me Laugh (Comedy!)

“A Princess and a Guy Like Me” by Simon Pegg

“Possible Contacts with Alien Life”  by John Hodgman

They Come in Bunches

The title is in reference to freshmen, UP freshmen in particular. It is an observable phenomenon after all. The first few days and weeks of class they move in bunches and sometimes in big groups. Sooner or later, they start to break off into smaller unit. Finally, they will become confident to walk the campus and take the ikot jeeps on their own. Also, after initial weeks eating in CASAA they will start finding other places to eat. This can’t help but spark some reminiscence when I was just like those kids, although I was probably more ill-mannered, pompous, and douchey than most of them.  Read more of this post

Prometheus Review

Thundering into cinemas is Ridley Scott’s big, bold return to the Alien franchise. Let’s be honest, while the creatures themselves have maintained their scary factor (thank you Giger), the franchise itself has lost its way with the AvP mash-ups. Good to see then that Prometheus brings it, generally, back to form.  Read more of this post