Wednesday, January 31, 2007

XML and doilies

I found this blog post on the web that resonated very well with my own thoughts about writing science fiction. Since it was in a password-protected blog, I shall not identify the poster (not that he / she has anything to be embarrassed about).

"Plot always seems to get in the way of nifty ideas. I've realized this recently while looking at Americomics and fanficking; there are so many neat ideas that can happen in scifi/fantasy/superhero universes, but to have a story those ideas must be tempered (and burdened) by an actual plot, having someone do something with or because of the idea.

Personally, this is why I prefer my profession as a programmer/web developer, and my hobby as a writer of bad fanfic. As a programmer I get paid to make nifty ideas, but I'm not drudged down with actually having to do anything with them. That's what users are for. :)"

It sums up so well what I've been experiencing as I toil away at my own writing. Plot indeed gets in the way of nifty ideas. And programming lets you express your ideas without burdening them with a plot. But, unlike the author of the comment, I haven't given up a search for a perfect balance of plot and ideas. Or I should say, a search for a plot that would work with the ideas, not against them. It's very hard, but it's also one of the most interesting things I've done in a long time.

(And I don't write fanfic, BTW.)

It could be that my daily mindset, imposed on me by my work as a programmer, works against these efforts. To me, thinking about programming is not verbal, it is spatial / visual. Ideas come to me as visual structures, not as words.

The images they may take are sometimes amusing. One sleepless night, when I ruminated on some programming problems I'm currently working on (because it was more entertaining and less futile than trying to force myself to sleep), this visual popped into my head. XML files were hanging from a clothesline by their angle brackets. They looked like doilies. Or maybe paper snowflakes. They had jagged / scalloped edges, where the jaggedness was realized on several different scales. The angle brackets made up the lowest-level jaggedness, and the identations of nested XML tags provided several scales of higher-level "scallops". Doilies (or paper snowflakes) are like that, too. I was probably 9-10 years old by the time I made my last doily. In the time and place I grew up, girls were required to take classes in "feminine" crafts, such as sewing, knitting and crocheting. And doilies are the easiest thing to crochet, so they were the staple of the craft classes. Even my 10-year-old self realized how lame this particular element of home decor is, but not before its imagery invaded my figurative thinking. Such are the vagaries of a girly mind. :-)

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