Novel Composites

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Twitter’s wonderful.  Of course for the ability for everyone around the world to disseminate information without filtering it through faceless agencies, and lolcats, but also I wouldn’t have found out about The Composites.  People with way too much time on their hands who use it wisely by putting the description of literary characters through police composite software.

And you know what, most of them are scarily accurate.  Just check out the Cathy Wilkes compo from Stephen King’s Misery.  Anyone else see Cathy Bates?

And my personal favourite…. I could see Kate Bush singing at him on a blasted heath.

The Life and Times of Chester Lewis

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Those who of you who read my old blog (and I know there’s a few, Google Analytics wouldn’t lie to me) may remember some news about me writing a story for an anthology called The Life and Times of Chester Lewis.  Well, we have a release date!

That’s right, from October the 1st you too could own a spanking copy of The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, featuring such esteemed writers as Michael White (no, slightly more moral relation), Jo Hart, Lia Weston and yours truly.  You better believe I’ll be pimping this more often closer to release, but in the meantime enjoy the old dude with the party hat.

Michael

Just Why Does DOOM Suck So Much?

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One thing I’ve noticed since I decided I would take this writing thing seriously is that I tend not to enjoy books and films as much.  I’d read something like this would happen, but that was after I realised I was appraising stories rather than just enjoying them.  Which is normal, I suppose, for a storyteller.  Everything is raw material to us, and stories, in their base form, are judged when we come across them.

Which is what I was thinking as I watched DOOM last night.

My lovely lady wife was out with friends, so I thought I’d catch up on the kind of films she’d rather divorce me than watch.  About midway in I would have divorced myself.

It really is that bad.  But here’s the thing; it’s trying really hard to be Aliens, so why was it failing?  Especially consdierring that even indexed for inflation, the budget for DOOM far outstripped that of Aliens.  It could have gone on The Rock’s per diem for creatine I suppose.

There are myraid reasons why, but what jumped out at me was Aliens built on scenes, and each scene had a purpose:

  •  The opening shot of Ripley being found (catalyst)
  • The debriefing (exposition and background)
  • The job offer (revealing Ripley’s mindset and laying groundwork for final fight scene)
  • “We lost contact!” (the call to arms…. god I feel dirty for using The Writer’s Journey terms)
  • Waking up on the navy ship (introduction of extra characters, or “cannon fodder”)

…and so on.  Where as 30 mins in to DOOM it was basically fifteen different shots of marines walking down corridors saying ‘ooh, isn’t this spooky’.  I paraphrase, but that’s the gist.

So within half an hour we found there are some dead scientists on Mars and they can’t find anyone.  Compare that to the five points above for Aliens, and that happens in about 20 minutes.

IN short; scenes, scenes, scenes.  Make ’em count, make ’em mean something, and, above all, make sure you have some kickarse knife tricks in one of ’em.

Michael

Another Milestone Reached

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The fine people at Anromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine have deemed the latest story I sent their way worthy, and shall be running it in their November issue.

*Ahem* go me.

I’m so happy with this on a number of levels.  First off, ASIM is a quality publication.  Or ‘a proper grown up magazine and everything!’ as my inner self is shouting while jumping up and down.

And secondly, I was very proud of the story.  I won’t say what it’s about, but it was inspired by the passing of one of my favourite authors, and I’m so happy someone thinks it’s good enough to show other people.

You better believe I’ll be harping on about this closer to the time.

Michael

Get In Ma Head!

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Writing groups are, on the whole (he he),  a good thing for a writer.  That sentence should come with the caveat ‘the right writing group’, I suppose.  A bad writing group will undermine a writer’s confidence and, worse, soak up time which could be used to write, but let’s ignore those for now.

I’ve been a part of a group before, and I miss it, so when I saw another group advertised through the Victorian Writer’s Centre I jumped at it.

I met the guys last month for the first time, got along, and think I may have found a new home, but something which happened in the feedback session made me realise the ability to receive feedback is a necessity for a writer.

The guy in question (used here in the gender-non-specific sense to keep things nice and safe) when someone said they didn’t understand a particular paragraph, the writer was straight on the defensive, saying the reader ‘did not get them’, and suggesting it was her fault, not their’s.

Woah, woah, woah, I wanted to say (but didn’t, because it was my first time and I didn’t want to rock the boat).  If a reader says they did’t understand something then the writing is suspect, full stop.  Perhaps they’re wrong, but even if they’re not suspicion has been raised and needs to be satisfied.

What writing is is story telling.  We as authors need to get the message, be it action, descriptions, feeling or dialogue, across to the reader as clearly and concisely as possible.  If that does not happen, the fault lies at the source.

I was made more thankful for the CAE Novel Writing course I took which made receiving and giving feedback its own syllabus.  I’m happy for any feedback I get back, even if it’s only ‘It’s sucks’… at least as long as I can find out why said suckage happens.

Full Steam Ahead, Cap’n!

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I’m a father of two small boys.  Which means, almost inevitably, I know certain TV shows and films off by heart.

I had a hunch this would be the case when Child #1 was born, so I made the vow that these films would be Pixar films.  I love Pixar, let’s just get this out of the way now.  They have not done a damn thing wrong.  They even took NASCAR and made it interesting, which is on the far side of impossible.  No other studio could take a character who says only two words through a whole film and inject him with so much, well, character.

 

Anyway, I had my attention brought to a series of Tweets from Emma Coats, one of Pixar’s story board artists of guidelines she learned from the guys at Pixar when she joined them.  It’s fortuitous that these come just as I’m stalling with the novel, and the answer was so head scratchingly obvious I needed it in 140 characters for me to see it (it was Point #7 in case you were wondering).

I needed more plotting.  I had a ‘you know what would be cool?’ setting, and it is cool and will fight to the death anyone who claims otherwise, and a kick arse start, but found myself floundering at 50,000 words, with only the vaguest of ideas where I was going.

I’ll stop waffling here and post Emma’s rules.  If I ever meet her I owe her a drink.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

 

Head Slappingly Obvious

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So here’s the position I’m in right now.  I’m a beginner writer.  I’ve written… god knows how many short stories, had  a few published, one aborted novel (and to invoke His name again, I hope to god no one ever finds its tracks), half a YA novel (temporarily shelved, not abandoned), and a full novel.  That i put to one side as it was missing a certain something, and that, i recognised in a rare moment of clarity, was context.  It needed its own world to be set it.

So, I set about novel number two.

And this si where I’ve stalled.  40,000 words in, and I’m struggling.  I’ve written another 5 short stories this past month, and that’s because I’me trying to avoid the elephant in the room that is the problem novel.

I’d admitted to myself there were two problems to it, that I was just hitting mental block after mental block.  Nothing huge, just feelings of setting and the purpose of specific dialogue, and then, like it was meant to be, i came across this.  A piece from the lovely Rachel Aaron on how she increased her daily word count from 2 to 10 thousand words.  It was like she was speaking to me (or at least 33% of me, the ‘timing’ section I know is beyond my ability to organise myself) on planning scenes and cutting out the bits you don’t enjoy writing.  I mean, it is so obvious, a real ‘trees for the forest for the bark’ moment.  Why should anyone read them if I didn’t even want to write them.

I’m seriously questioning if I’ve overstretched myself with this novel.  I still don’t know how its supposed to end, god knows how many characters and three main viewpoints across a continental-wide war half based on actual events….but 40,000 words is too many to throw away.  I’ll be taking time to remap out what I’m writing and I will damn well finish this gosh darn book!

And when I do I’m going to email Rachel and thank her.  You see if I don’t.

Michael

Venus

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Like many I was hanging out for the Venutian passage of the sun yesterday, and was also one of those dissapointed by total cloud cover.  Luckily NASA had me covered with their live feed, but the Japanese space agency went one further with this super hires shot.  Enjoy.

 

Don’t be so Bloody Obvious

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Way back when, when I was a wee nipper, probably the eighties so there’s a chance a mullet was involved, I remember watching a Sherlock Holmes film.  I can’t remember the name, nor even who played Holmes, and I’m pretty certain is a ‘inspired by the tales of Arthur Conan Doyle’ more than an adaptation of one of the stories, but a scene from it has stayed with me since.

It was towards the end, when we find out the mastermind was really one of the gentlement helping Holmes with the investigation, but really he was forging money on the side for…. I dunno, unicorn training possibly.  Anyway, the scene opened with him and his henchman on a hackney cab being dropped off on some suitably misty docks.

“That’ll be tuppence ha’penny,” says the cabby.

“Here you go,” says the arch villain, and hands over some paper money.  “Keep the change.”

“Cor blimey, guvnor!  That’s more money than I seen in my bleeding’ life!  Gaw bless ya!”

“It’s quite all right,” says the villain, “I print me own,”  Cue knowing laugh.

Then the henchman leans over and cuts the driver’s throat.

No, even back then when little Mikey was watching in his Ghostbusters jammies something struck me as wrong there.  We were supposed to believe that this man, up until now a perfectly level, likeable gent, had a sinister, sociopathic side he somehow managed to hide from the world for 50 years.  Which is fine, I suppose, it could happen.  Has happened in real life, but then we also have to believe he would do something so unnecessarily cruel as to have  useless exchange, a baseless quip and then kill someone for no reason?

I’m assuming the director needed a way visually demonstrate this guy was now the baddie.  Which is fine.  Unnecessary, but fine, given ti had already been established, but it destroyed the believability of a character set up over the course of the film.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve been listening to A Feast for Crows, the , oooh, fourth book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire?  I think it’s the fourth, the audio books are split into two and I get confused easily.  Anyway, the character of Brienne.  We meet her in the second book, and she plays heavily in the third, and in both she’s  a strong, feisty and more than capable character who proves herself to be one of the best one on one fighters in the kingdom.

Great!  Finally a strong female fantasy character who doesn’t have to open her legs to get what she wants!

But in AFFC Martin goes and changes everything.  You see, poor Brienne is crippled by doubt.  Literally in some cases.  It started off intriguing, it being a counter point to the women we came to know in the previous two books, and added depth to the character.  But it quickly overwhelms her, so completely she’s unrecognisable as the same woman who beat the supposed best swordsman in the world and fought halfway across a country at war to deliver a prisoner.

A character is a living, breathing person, at best, a hook for a plot device at worst, but using the first to do the second destroys the work of a hundred thousand words.

Michael