Thursday, February 25, 2016

My Blog is Not a Platform

Platform, Part One
I’m an artistic writer.  For fun. Earlier this week my over-cheerful brother told me, “If you’re an artist, then you should have a platform.”

 “A platform?”

Cheerful smile. “Sure, like when Abraham Lincoln did his debates in the pasture. He and his pal Douglas stood on a platform to be heard.”

I grunted. “I thought he stood on a stump. But yes, I’ve heard of writers having a blog as a platform. In fact, I’m still laughing about Chuck Norris trying to persuade the publisher to take a chance on publishing his life story—
“—Even the dark is afraid of Chuck Norris—”
“Yes, well; he finally resorted to telling the publisher he had just won the Karate championship—and that would mean Karate fans from all over would be his market. The publisher accepted Chuck’s reasoning. I’m glad, because I really liked Chuck’s book.” (The Secret of My Inner Strength)

“However,” I shook my head “I’m still not convinced I need a blog as my platform.” (Should I take up karate?)

“But Sean,” said my brother, smiling very broadly “you believe in capitalism, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said cautiously.

“When any capitalist has lots of cash then you have to respect what he says, right? And get this—An artist made lots of cash, he was on the New York Times best-seller list, for two books explaining how every artist and writer should have a blog as a platform.

I looked cautious. “OK”

My brother enthused, “You simply tell the public, with your blog, what they want to know about something, so they keep coming back.”

My shoulders slumped. “This artist probably blogs about life in Paris, and painting along the river Seine, and life in the artist colony, and wild parties with models… I can’t do that.

I know,” he sympathized “when you’re a pasty white writer in a basement dank and lonely it’s hard to have any life to write about.”

I just made a face.

His smile got big and energetic again. “This guy, he knows all about art—and rivers and models—he shares how his art is coming along, he gives lessons in how he creates it.”

My shoulders stayed slumped. “Yes but— I guess, the only thing I know about is writing.” Then I brightened up: “I could blog on how to write! That could be my platform! … I wonder if anybody else has done that?”

My brother talked hurriedly: “Oh I’m sure they have, platforms are the latest thing, now you run along and go blog.”

… I got right on it. So here, ladies and gentlemen, I present my new platform:
Lesson One

First let me set the scene from the novel Danger in Deep Space
(page 34-35, volume two, copyright 1953 by Rockhill Radio, published by Grosset and Dunlap)

Three heroic space cadets are in their spaceship, the solar alliance cruiser Polaris, in 1953— I mean, the book is copyright 1953. From the series, “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.” The series used to be advertised on the backs of the Hardy Boys books, remember?

The Polaris has been hurtling through the darkness of space with its crew of three cadets, and their tough commander too. Tom Corbett, earnest like the 1950’s boy next door, is on the control deck, while up on the radar deck in the nose is Roger Manning, a dark haired ladies man, and down on the power deck is the muscular Astro. No last name, just Astro. (No, he’s not Vulcan: He’s an orphan raised on Venus—so just one name) Major Connel is on the control deck with Tom. Now the Polaris is approaching a defended space station. The station is hailing them.  

…Shall I answer her?” asked Roger over the intercom.

“Of course, you space-brained idiot, and make it fast!” exploded Connel. “What do you want to do? Get us blasted out of space?”

“Yes, sir!” replied Roger. “Right away, sir!”

Tom kept his eyes on the teleceiver screen above his head. The image of the space station loomed large and clear.

“Approaching a little too fast, I think, sir,” volunteered Tom. “Shall I make the adjustment?”

“What’s the range?” asked Connel.

Tom named a figure.

“Ummmmh,” mused Connel. He glanced quickly over the dials and then nodded in assent. Tom turned once more to the intercom. “Control deck to power deck,” he called. “Stand by for maneuvering, Astro, and reduce your main drive thrust to minimum space speed.”
First, notice the action words, like “nodded, glanced, turned.” Readers like action.

Then notice the verbal action tags, like “called, replied, asked.”

In other chapters, when Connel is not present, and when the cadets, on their respective decks, are talking to each other, you can practically hear the camera going “whoosh!” to move to each cadet. That’s action. My point is this: Readers of today are raised on screens and tablets, they are used to action visuals like they would see on camera. They don’t like people merely talking. They even have a contemptuous word: “talking heads.”

Hence the use above of “volunteered, exploded, mused.”

Writers beware: Certain clichés have been used so often they barely show on the reader’s radar as action; others have been so overused they don’t register at all, in fact, they might as well be dead. Such a word that cannot touch the senses of a reader is called a “dead cliche.” Charles Dickens satirized the use of dead clichés when he began A Christmas Carol with (From my mistaken memory of the condensed version) “Marley was dead. Deader than a doornail, if a doornail can be said to be dead.” His point, of course, with a wink, was no reader would be actively be visualizing a doornail. No action. The doornail cliché, truly, was dead, dead, dead.

Writers be careful: The deadest tag of all? He said. …What do you visualize for "he said?" ... Nothing! It’s a dead cliché! If you write ‘said’ then what you have is a ‘talking head,’ barely alive. Meaning: your prose is barely alive.
So here is Lesson One: Seldom say, “he said.” Use it only occasionally, for variety.

You’re welcome.

Next week, same blog, same platform, we’ll have Lesson Two—How to write a literary classical whizz bang sex scene to make tons of money but-don’t-tell-your-mother so you can afford to vacation on an island in the Pacific. (May I suggest, Vancouver Island?)

Platform, Part Two
…Meanwhile, as for the above scene with my brother, the thing to note is: He thought a platform would be a good idea for me—and not for him. I am reminded of a man in Silicon Valley, essayist and website millionaire Paul Graham, who gives advice to computer nerds, nerds who are seeking to make a fortune by creating code for new software apps (applications) such as the next Face Book.

Graham tells them (As explained in his essay How to Get Startup Ideas) that when you have an idea, and friends go, “Yes, that would be a good thing…” If they are thinking “good” for someone else, someone other than themselves … then be fearful, very fearful. Graham calls these “sitcom ideas,” meaning a character on a situation comedy could plausibly make money with this app or site, but not someone in the real world.

Graham gives an example: You could create a “social media site for pet lovers.” Sounds plausible, we all love puppies: “Awww, how cute.” So you tell your friends your new idea and they say, “Great!” But the real question is: Would they themselves go on a “pet lovers social media site?” As a fellow writer, you might advise me to make a blog platform, but would you go on it?  It’s OK if you, and my dear brother too, both say: “No.” You won’t hurt my feelings. (Hi Gordon!)

No, because I won’t use all my waking man-hours for an odyssey through an endless series of blogs on the World Wide Web. Not when I’m an avid writer and reader. Instead I have four or five blogs I check out almost daily, a dozen I get around to monthly, and a score, at most, that I always click on from one season to the next. Other “perfectly good” sites, “too good to delete,” just take up space on my bookmarks list. As for the hundreds and hundreds of eager writers with their eager platforms all over North America… No. On any given day, I’m only going to my favorite half-dozen sites.

Back when I lived in the cool rainbow part of town, the realtor’s rag would read,  “Imagine waking up on Saturday to a variety of fine coffee shops in walking distance.” There were a half-dozen such gourmet shops. I guess I had “adventurously sought variety,” had tried every coffee place—just once. Back then, you might have called me a “stick in the mud” for I confess: Every weekend, as I woke up, I already knew, never mind “variety,” I would only walk to my favorite place, the greasy spoon Lido Chinese Café… where people knew my name.

I conclude that yes, it’s a good idea for a writer to have a platform, provided the writer is a character in a sitcom.

You’re welcome.

Sean Crawford
February 2016

~By the way, successful published writers, at weekend reader-writer-publisher conventions, all say to use “he said” as much as possible… But hey, what do they know? They’ve all been “published,” which means they’ve sold out to the man. 

~I could have credited the writer of the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series as being Carey Rockwell, but I think he’s only as real as that fellow Franklin W. Dixon who’s been writing the Hardy Boys since my father was in short pants.

~Here’s a link to a free uncondensed version of A Christmas Carol.

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