Review of “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges

Genre: Nonfiction, philosophy, war

Synopsis: As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies, corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting the most basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick this summer, which is lucky for me as my summer reading for AP Lit this year consisted of war books, one of which was War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I enjoyed this book, despite my original trepidation. It made me think about a lot of assumptions and beliefs instilled in me by American culture and it really opened my eyes to the truth and reality of war as opposed to the “myth of war” that Hedges describes. Knowing his background, I could ignore the slightly overdone language when needed, but the author has a very nice way with words for the most part, and I found myself tearing up at several points in the book.

It also, rather surprisingly, has affected my own novel. There is certainly violent conflict in some portions of the story, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the psychological aspects that accompany war when it comes to my characters. War Is a Force gave me a clearer view of the realities of any violent situation and helped me cement in my mind how I will approach fighting and battle scenes in Star Kings. We’ve all been exposed to cultural icons such as LOTR, “Braveheart”, “300”, and “The Patriot”, to name a few, and it never occurred to me personally that there was any other way of portraying war. Chris Hedges, however, has made me consider more fully how I want this part of my story to go, and I have a feeling this awareness of the nature of war will be invaluable when it comes to writing those scenes.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend it? Absolutely.

I’m Not Dead, I Promise…

I’ve just been a little bit busy the past few weeks. I hope you’ve all been reading and writing wonderful things; I know I have. I’m currently lost in City of Bones, the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, which I’ll most likely review once I’m done with it (yes, I know I’m terribly late to the TMI party, shhh). I’m also working on doing a bit of plot-tweaking and solving a few somewhat big issues on my own project, so wish me good luck!

In more blog-related news, I’m considering writing a post about POVs. I’m having a mid-novel crisis about them at the moment, and I hope writing a post about will serve to help me sort it out and/or clear things up for you in some way. Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in (input is love after all).

Anyhow, I just thought I’d write a quick note to reaffirm my status as “alive and not dead/missing”. I hope you all are having a great February, and happy belated Love Day!

 

The Hot Dog Technique

So in the past week I haven’t written a word of chapter 4. That isn’t to say I haven’t been writing; I have, just not what I’m technically supposed to be. I’ve been doing exercises, free-writes, diagrams, charts, lists, but nothing concrete to say for the actual rough draft. I think doing these exercises has helped a lot with de-blocking me for chapter 4…but wait, I should probably explain said blockage, huh?

Okay, so last week when I reached the fourth chapter I was feeling accomplished and great and overall writer-spiffy, but chapter 4 holds some important plotty events which I hadn’t quite worked out the technical aspects of at the time. So I got stuck, trying to dig out how exactly to write what happens. Enter in the Hot Dog Technique.

(Okay, so it isn’t really called that, but I like the name so what the hell.)

I read it somewhere a while back (sorry, but I honestly don’t remember a website or book to point y’all in the right direction), and at first I didn’t think much of it, but then I tried it just because, and wow. What you do is simply this: with no punctuation or fretting about sentence structure/grammar/spelling WHATSOEVER (that’s pretty much the most important aspect of the exercise), write to the middle of the page and when you get there go to the next line. It helps to fold the paper in half, hot dog style (the vast majority of people will remember this from elementary school) and only write to the crease of the fold, then to the next line, then the next. Like so:032
This technique helped a ton because its purpose is to free you from distractions like over-thinking  The only true rule there is to follow is to only write to the middle of the page, and even that isn’t required. It gets you out of those holes you dig yourself into, and it also loosens you up and forces you to stop thinking and just write. If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it.

So now I’m sort of unblocked, and hopefully this chapter won’t be too rough on my nerves. I hope everyone else is having a great week!

 

To chapter 4!

This past week has been a bit unproductive writing-wise because both my best friend from Arizona and my father’s family came to town for a visit at the same time. I had a great time, but I unfortunately had very little time to write, though I did my best when I got the chance. I also finally got an iPhone (the 4S model) and I’m absolutely in love with it. <3

I’m back now, thank Buddha, and I’ve reached chapter 4 of my novel, in which my main character…okay I’m sick to death of saying “my main character” (it’s such a mouthful for me), so his name is Dastan. Anyway, Dastan’s father is captured, and I’m excited but at the same time dragging my feet again because I know the first time writing that scene is going to be hard and probably not that brilliant, but I just have to get over it, don’t I?

I’ve also seen three very inspiring movies that I highly recommend (well, Pitch Perfect wasn’t really “inspiring”, but it was pee-in-your-pants funny), Les Misérables and Perks of Being A Wallflower. Neither are necessarily writing-related, but they have given me some really great ideas that I could work into a future novel. Les Mis is a movie that I have been obsessing over since I first heard about it, being a huge fan of both the musical and the book (though the movie was not all that special), and it did not let me down; in fact, it went beyond anything I could even imagine. The cast was just brilliant, the music gave me goosebumps like every two seconds, and it is simply one of the most incredible musical films ever made in my opinion. Go see it. Now. Then you can come back and finish reading.

Perks of Being A Wallflower was at the dollar theater, and all I knew about it was that it had a cool soundtrack, Emma Watson (my ladylove), and drugs. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, and what it turned out to be was unforgettable. I just ordered the book off Amazon, and I will without a doubt be buying the movie the second it hits stores. It’s not a movie for everyone, but if you have an open mind and you want to be inspired, then this is a great one to see. I absolutely loved it.

Now, last thing (my God, this is a long post). I went to B&N Thursday and picked up another writing book/guide/instruction manual shindig called 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet. I’m on page 56 so far, and I also read the end (because I fail as a human being, yes I know), and so far it’s a great read. Domet is very frank and no-nonsense (like a good deal of college professors), and pretty much a badass sassbucket, if you take my meaning. She had me laughing from the first page, and she has a very set way of approaching the novel-writing process, which may not be for everyone, but I’m certainly enjoying the read. The book works like an actual lesson plan, with first a prologue, and then actual day-by-day assignments that help you build both an outline and a completed rough draft. I love outlining and writing exercises, so I’m looking forward to trying out her methods, perhaps over the summer when I’m less pressed for time (and energy).

Hope your New Year is going well!

 

Books books books!

So, with holiday money racking up (always lovely) I’ve had the chance to purchase a few goodies for my bookshelf. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a wonderful book called The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. While reading it for the past week or so whenever I caught a free moment, I’ve had several epiphanies about my own novel series that I’m both excited and irritated about. I’m sure most if not all writers have experienced the moments when, completely out of the blue, an idea hits you that will pulverize both your plot and your sanity which, while not necessarily a bad thing, tends to be a bit like pulling the rug out from under you. That’s what’s happened to me. Three times. In five days. I’m hanging on by a coffee-soaked thread.

For one, I found out that my leading character, whom I originally thought was unknowingly adopted as a baby and never told his true parents’ identities, was in fact raised by his father. In the woods.

I also found out that the novel does not take off with the death of the MC‘s adopted mother, but with the capture and kidnapping of his biological father. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I have yet to be informed of exactly how said father is captured and ‘napped.

And the quaint forest village where he was originally raised turned into a city fortress built into the side of a mountain.

Lovely.

However, I think, despite my exasperation with this strange new direction the story is taking me, I quite like the idea of writing it.

But back to the book. I highly recommend it to any writer, especially those who have trouble finding time to write. I do have some warnings about it, though not everyone may necessarily be bothered by the same things I am. The style and structure of the book can be restricting in some ways; it reads like a week-by-week lesson plan, with specific exercises and lots of plotting and character work. Each chapter is intended for a certain number of weekends, and while you can skip certain sections that aren’t interesting or valid to you personally, you would do well to read all of the chapters so that you can understand the book thoroughly. I enjoy the plotting exercises especially because I happen to be a bit of a plotter and I enjoy working out the kinks in a story and fleshing out ideas. Using this book’s suggestions and an old sketch book I found lying around the house, I’ve been having quite a time exploring the ideas of Ray and Norris and it’s really benefited both me and my novel. They both seem to be very seasoned writers and it shows in the way they approach writing. One thing that they focus heavily on which I’m not crazy about is “objects”. A good number of lessons focus on developing objects to associate with characters and situations, which in itself is a great thing to mention; however, 40+ pages are spent on this topic and after a while it gets tedious. I found myself skimming a lot of it.

This book has been really handy for plotting and character work, but I’m more than halfway through it and they haven’t even begun approaching the actual writing of the novel, which seems a bit odd to me considering they claimed in the introduction that, using the book’s methods, the reader is supposed to have a completed rough draft. I’m not particularly trying for a completed draft in 52 weekends, but it would be nice if the book didn’t seem to stray so much from its original purpose.

Having spewed out that mini-rant, I would still definitely recommend it as an addition to your bookshelf. There are many exercises in it which have helped to get me out of a tight spot, and it’s very easy to follow, with examples from both published books and samples from the authors’ own writing.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season surrounded by those you love and those who love you, and fingers crossed that this coming year is a great one!