Friday, 28 December 2012

Congratulations, you're a sell-out

Today's post is about the line between accessibility and academia. Quite a wide margin, one might think. But the pitfalls are the greatest for the people who fall on one side or the other. So, what's the difference?

First, let's examine the difference between the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings, as you may well know, is academia at its heaviest and least accessible. You can read it, sure, but its lumbering prose lulls you into a stupor faster than almost anything else. The lengthy musings on bloodlines and rightful heirs only serves to worsen things. I've read it, don't get me wrong, and I plan to read it again. It's just a bit more of a chore than I would like it to be.

Okay, so how does the Hobbit differ from this? Well, first off, the Hobbit is often described as a children's novel. Not that I think it detracts from the book at all, it simply means that the writing is a little more light-hearted and the story a little less gloomy. To me, this is a very good book. It may skim over the bad parts, and the story and characters may be a little underdeveloped, but it succeeds in what it attempts to achieve, and that is to entertain.

Now let's enter the other end of the spectrum entirely. Take a series like Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey. The two are interchangeable for me. The writing is in first person, description is almost non-existent.It focuses on an obsession with a single man - his life consumes the protagonist's existence. It's supposed to be a book one can slip in to - to be the protagonist, to forget she's even there. Simplistic writing (read: no big words) lets the less academic demographic, and the readers who are not avid readers, engage easily with the story. This expanded readership results in widespread liking for the novel, resulting in a cult following (or at least very high sales).

Before you consider writing a book like that and becoming filthy rich, observe the trends in the market. Since both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, thousands of copycats of each have flooded the market, some of them vastly better than what came before. None of them have reached the cult popularity of the first. If you're going to write something, either make sure it's sufficiently set apart from the current obsession, or make it good. Really good. Maybe it's not accessible enough to create a cult following, and you may not get movies, but it will last a hell of a lot longer than Twilight.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A Fantasy Serial - Chapter 1

May I present to you a new project of mine. This here is a novel idea I never managed to finish. Let's see if a little more experience and the incentive of the internet won't spur this one towards its finish. So tell me: what would you like to happen next?

I shouldn’t have been out that night. It was a silly and reckless thing to do, brought on I think by an excess of drink and an absence of disapproval. There was no one to mind me, all of them occupied with other things, the doings of a young girl holding little interest to them. I was no more than an irritating puppy, to be played with at times and shooed away when it got tiresome. So there was no way they were going to miss me.

The night was cold, and I wrapped my shawl tighter around my shoulders. What was I doing out here? Heaven only knew. All I knew was that I had to get out, to clear my head. I took deep breaths of the night air, drinking in its cool freshness with slightly drunken pleasure. I did not notice him creep up on me, and when his hand was clasped over my mouth, I was too stunned even to scream. He gagged me, binding my hands tightly behind my back. He then dragged me, stumbling, into a side alley. Only then could I get a proper look at my captor.

Chocolate coloured skin was the first thing I noticed. It had a richness to it, as deep and dark as fine wooden furniture. The whites of his eyes looked out of his face with a startling contrast, as if he were merely a shadow, simply a pair of eyes staring at me from the darkness. His expression was neutral, neither kind nor ruthless. He checked my dress for pockets, his fingers moving deftly. Soon enough he had realised that I carried no purse. Instead he groped for my necklace.

No. I began to struggle, as futile as I knew it was. Tears pooled in my eyes as he undid the clasp, and he thrust the necklace into one of his pockets. If he noticed, it didn’t show. I might have run then, if I had any notion of where I was. Instead I stood there and waited for him to finish taking my belongings, swaying slightly with the wind.

It didn’t take him long. He drew a knife, and I shrank back in fear. But he grabbed my shoulder and swivelled me around, too strong for me. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

It never came. He cut my hands free and started to run. I reached up and undid my gag. “Wait!” I screamed madly. “Please.”

Did he halt in the darkness? I did not know. Perhaps he didn’t care. I decided to talk regardless. Maybe he would hear me. “Please,” I said again. “It’s all I have of them.”

“Do you not have memories?” The voice which spoke to me sounded educated, not brutish in the slightest. “Funny how we hold on to objects, assign them special value.”

I swallowed and tried to calm my breathing. “It helps me to remember.”

“Don’t those memories make you sad?” he asked. His voice was coming from somewhere elevated, like a rooftop. “Don’t they make you want to rail at life itself for being so unfair? Memories are trash. Better not to think of the dead, and occupy yourself with the living.”

I wanted to scream at him, but that would not help me. If anyone came, he would simply flee, leaving me with nothing but memories and a bare neck. Instead I calmed my breathing and spoke quieter. “To me, they are valuable memories. They make me want to cry, but it is sweet in its bitterness. I laugh at the same time.”

I waited for a response, but the night was still. Eventually I came to realise that he had left me here, stolen away while I was speaking. I returned home. An educated, well-spoken thief was still a thief, after all. I had been a fool to think that he would listen to me. Perhaps in time I would learn not to keep up such hopes, and be glad that all he had wanted were my jewels.

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Been A While

Okay, a couple of things. First, I've been a bit lax with posts, as you might have noticed over the past month. I've been busy making Christmas gifts for my family, but that's really no excuse. I could have made time if I wanted to. That's what this post pertains to. Maintaining consistency in your writing habits can be a real problem.

Well, why should we keep consistent writing  habits, and not just write when the mood takes us? There are a couple of reasons, but I'll start with the most obvious. There will always be other things, and if you don't set aside at least a little time, you will end up with a lot of ideas and very little on paper. Also, keeping a writing schedule helps keep your story fresh in your mind, avoiding embarassing things like plot inconsistencies.

So, what to do? Think through your day. What time do you have for writing, and how can you use it most effectively? Is it evenings when you most like to write? Set them aside, then. Your morning commute is a chore? Use those few precious minutes to get words on paper.

I suppose the best advice I can give at this point is to soldier on. Even if you don't really feel like writing, do it anyway. Make a commitment that you will get those words written. If you like word count goals, you can set yourself one, like NaNoWriMo. Anything to motivate you. And if you're terrible at motivating yourself, get someone else to do it for you. My sister does a great job.

That's it folks, short and sweet. I'll be back soon with a new kind of post. I've been thinking about how to spice this little blog up, and I think I've got something. See yas.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Jump off a Cliff, See if I Care

This post deals with making characters likeable and interesting. I have been recently playing Assassin's Creed III, which has brought this question sharply to mind with Connor Kenway. Though he has a wonderfully interesting backstory and cool skills, I still don't really like him as much as Desmond, Ezio or even Haytham Kenway, his (SPOILERS) evil templar dad. So why is this, I wonder. I guess to find the answer I had better pick apart the characters.

First, Desmond. He is an unwilling and unlikely hero, to begin with useless at being an assassin. He is captured by the templars and stuck in the Animus, a device which allows him to relive the memories of his ancestors. He finds what they want before escaping with Lucy, who brings him to a small group of assassins. Then he relives the memories of Ezio Auditore, in order to recieve Ezio's skills. Now, why is he interesting. For one thing, his reactions are something we can all relate to. We believe we would react the same way in his situation. We have also had four games to 'bond' with him. It helps as well that his story compelling.

Now, Ezio. Ezio Auditore da Firenze loses his father and brothers when he is a teenager, and he and his mother and sister run to the small village of Monterregione. His story is one first of revenge towards the ones who killed his family, then a struggle against the Borgia family. We can relate to Ezio because he is also human; though he has an innate goodness and nobility and later wisdom (plus assassin skills), he also has the very human desires for love and revenge.

Haytham Kenway is an example of a character I probably shouldn't like, but I do. Is it his english accent, his quickness to come up with a plan, or his self-assured manner? Maybe it is a combination of the three. He seems gentle and understanding, dealing with the captured Native American woman as he frees her brethren. He is patient, waiting several months before again meeting with the Native Americans. And he shows a dislike for undue conflict, preferring a well thought out plan.

So, why doesn't Connor measure up to any of these? He is the most fully developed character in the game, with the circumstances of his birth explained fully, and his training lasting a very long time. He doesn't have an objectionable personality, apart from the occasional bad judgements and a slight arrogance and unwillingness to see people as anything but evil. But perhaps it is these last traits which make him unlikeable. It is, it seems, the Harry Potter effect. These are the traits which Mr Potter displays most prominently, and consequently turn him into a character which I can't really relate to. The stubborness of his disposition mean that character development is really out of the question (if AC characters develop), and makes him seem a bit flat. I know such people exist, but they make me cringe.

Maybe it's just me, but now that I look at it, Harry seems far too perfect. Just look at some people's character traits lists: brave, hard working, kind, caring, clever, independent, optimistic, humble, loyal, giving, self sacrificing, loving, smart, etc. Perhaps J.K. killed her character with kindness. He has faults, but they're faults which make me cringe, and in everything else he's bloody perfect.

I need to know if it's just me! And please, don't shoot me, I'm a huge fan of HP too. I don't mind Harry at all, I'm just indifferent to him. Sayonara!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Pantsing like a Planner

Right, well, I've been on both sides of the divide. Who hasn't been told that not to have a plan is to go without an ending, to invite chaos into your manuscript? In truth, I just wanted to get writing, and think about silly things like an overall story arc later. Here are my reasons for being a pantser and not a planner, plus the pros and cons for each.

- You know exactly where you're going, so you can foreshadow it.
- Your writing is neat and tidy, no unexpected turns
- You don't invite plot holes if you plan properly

- Your characters don't always do what you want them to
- If they don't, you need a new plan
- Lack of flexibility

- No need to plan
- Story grows organically
- Masses of plot twists make the story interesting
- No plot holes, because the story goes where it will

- Lots of little events rather than one overarching story
- Story might not end up as you originally envisioned
- Characters! What are you doing!?

Now, how does this affect me? Well, the seat-of-the-pants approach was something I'd never really thought about until I started with absolutely no planning on November 1. It was scary, but very soon I had main characters, villains, and a story of some sort. It felt good, but I soon realised that I had to drive this story in a particular direction.

This is where the planning element comes in. No matter how much of a pantser you are, everyone needs to plan. Even if it's only a vague plan in your head, telling you where your current plot is going to take you, it needs to be there. That way plot elements can be foreshadowed, without losing that element of surprise that is the most wonderful and frustrating thing about pantsing.

Unless, of course you're a cyborg who can plot the whole thing and make it work without dragging in the slightest. In that case, you don't need this post. If you're that person, I salute you and wonder if I can somehow steal your brain. Because pantsing can be exhausting at the best of times, and coming up with an ending can be like pulling teeth. Seriously.

So even the most serious pantser needs elements of planner, and even the most hardened planner needs to do some planning (or their characters might do it for them). I stand by the approach because I am a fence sitter, and it's what I do. Pantsing is a wonderful thing, but to relieve that stress you need some kind of plot. So sit back and wonder what it is you want to achieve with you story. It's well worth it.