Tag: Dan Abnett

The importance of showing vs not showing a damn thing


Superhero movies are crap.

There, now I have your attention. Although I will assure you that sentence has more purpose than to grab your attention, because by and large it’s true. Fight me. No, don’t, unless it’s at Street Fighter and I can pick e Honda. Super hero films are, mostly, shite. They fall back on the same characters who by the will of the studios, can’t grow, fight the same handful of well-known antagonists, and tell stories already told. Often multiple time.

Seriously, Uncle Ben and Bruce’s parents have been killed more times than Jack Harkness.

But, as usual, there are exceptions. Man of Steel (fight me again) is one, for reasons I won’t go into here, and the Avengers, for a particular reason I will.

There are a few reasons the Avengers is a standout. Joss Whedon is one, that it can forgo the character and scene setting most other films have to sink time into is another. But I want to talk about a particular shot.  This one, in fact. And more specifically, the last 8 seconds:

For those who haven’t seen the film (and there are many, because superhero films are crap, remember?) here we see Bruce Banner being convinced veeeeery gently to come join the fun. But it’s the last part which is telling. Throughout the scene the hut has been surrounded by a squad of heavily armed soldiers. But why? Nothing happened. We saw nowt. In and of itself, that scene isn’t great, but that eight second camera swap was the payoff that made.

They were scared. That’s tight storytelling. That tells the viewer, even if they don’t know who Bruce Banner, that there’s something terrifying just below the surface.

The same technique is used in Inglorious Basterds, where we first meet Donny Donowitz, AKA, the Bear Jew:

And if you want a longer build up of the same, Jaws, where an entire town is held in sway by a threat we know is there, but all we see are the after effects of what that threat is capable of.

Done right, this technique is effective as hell. It draws on the viewer / reader’s own imagination because they – and us writers often hate to admit it – can conjure up much more frightening sights than we ever could. It’s one reason why The Blair Witch project and Paranormal Activity were so bloody frightening.

We’re often told to show, don’t tell, but not showing can be even more effective. By purposefully not showing, but describing around the subject, we give it context, we amplify its meaning, its potential.

Perhaps the best use of this in fiction is my firm favourite Adam Nevill, especially in his novel Last Days. The first half of the novel is the usual scrabblings in the dark, the shuddering of cupboards from within, btu delivered with Nevill’s visceral style.

Another example would be Horus Rising by Dan Abnett. Even non-fans of Warhammer 40k (and there are many, because if anything can suck harder than superhero movies it’s IP fiction – fight me all over again) would do well to read this first novel in the Horus Heresy series. Abnett treats the Astartes (giant, power-armoured supersoldiers of the far futures) as a antural disaster, showing us the after affects of these soldiers’ actions on the regular humans who witness them and who – and here’s the thing – are on the same side. Shell shock by proxy. Before you even see them you’re in awe of what they can do. It’s effective.  Hell, it’s effecting.

Don’ describe the monster. Once it’s a monster, it’s a monster, and monsters can be beaten. But beating something that exists only in your head? Aye, give that a go.



Where I Belatedly Realise Dan Abnett Answered My Question


Wanna hear something freaky?  (No?  Well screw you, this is my blog.)  I was lucky enough that my work load yesterday consisted of completely boring document which were entirely possible to reformat while I listened to something to else.  Yah, i know, right?!  Seriously though, I love work days like this, because it allows me to trawl YouTube for advice from published authors to those of us just starting out.

So I gone through Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan (both always a pleasure to listen to), when I came across the video below.  Why am I posting this?  Because way back when Dan Abnett opened himself up on his blog to questions about his work and writing.  I’m a huuuuge fan of Dan’s writing.  Some might say he’s wasted on IP work, but in my mind it’s writers of his caliber which give the genre its legitimacy.

Anyway, I asked.  And then I forgot.  And then I listened to this video.  Skip to the 7:45 minute mark if you want, but I’d suggest you listen to the whole thing….

A funny answer for an entirely unnecessary question.  But how do you write for someone who’s smarter than you?  I think I’ll ask Stephen Fry…..



Magic, edited by Jonathan Oliver


Step one: Pick up a copy of Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane, edited by Jonathan Oliver.

Step two: Go to page 79.

Step three: Read ‘Party Tricks’ by Dan Abnett.

Step four: Realise you’re in the hands of a master. Sit back and enjoy the story.

Without realising it, I’ve managed to collect and read three anthologies by Jonathan Oliver in the past two years.  The first two, House of Fear and End of the Line, were because the rather talented Adam Nevill was involved, this time it was Dan Abnett, but honestly, it was not until I put it on the shelf I realised Jonathan edited all three.  I’m of the mind tha there’s no greater praise of an artist that someone can enjoy their work without realising who did it.

Anyway, yes, get this anthology.  Get it, go on.  You really won’t regret it.


Guilty Pleasures


I have a rule a try to follow.  Well, actually, I have several, such as ‘do not slap the guy ahead of you on the pavement upside the head for walking at a glacial pace’, but the one I’m referring to now is just as hard to keep.  This rule is; I try to read one book I really, really, want to reasd, followed by one I feel I should read.  The decision on what I should read is based on prevailing attitudes in the literary press and recommendations.  I do hold that all writers should read a lot and read widely, however kids and work, plus writing itself, means the amount of time I can actually read is tiny compared to a few years ago.

Which leads to moments of weakness like I’m having now.

I have just finished ‘Descent of Angels’ by Mitch Scanlon, book, um six, I think, in Games Workshop’s Horus Heresy series.  The series is pure IP geekiness, I’ll admit to that.  And the different novels’ quality varies from author to author, from the creative giant Dan Abnett and down.  ‘Descent of Angels’ was one of the better books, and I enjoyed the ride, putting it on the shelf after the last page and picking up my next read, in this case ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan.  I’ve found I’m a fan of McEwan’s without actually reading any of his novels, thanks to reading and watching numerous interviews, and have two books of his on my shelves.  Of the two, Atonement has the better reviews, so that one t was….. until I realised the next book in the Heresy series was another by Dan Abnett.

It took me all of 27 seconds to decide that time is short and books are not.

I’m loving the book, bythe way.  Abnett can set the scene of a war within a page.  The man’s a genius.