Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let's all go to a little place called 1966

With the conclusion of this episode, here we are with only two episodes to go before Doctor Who disappears from our televisions (and laptops) for the summer months. So far this series we’ve had an opening episode that for all its goodness was so dull I nearly stopped watching, a follow-up to that episode which was equally dull and an absolute shambles of writing, an episode that’s sort-of enjoyable at first but the more you think about it the more you realise the writing was an even bigger shambles than last week, and an episode so ludicrously hysteric it completely shattered any and all patience I had with NuWho. So much so I was very much inclined to give this episode a miss*.

Yet here we are, one week on, two weeks away from the end of DW for a little while, and I’ve watched it again. And do you know what? It was good. Properly good. Oh, it wasn’t the best episode of the New Series by any means. But this episode actually had a story. Or, rather, it actually knew how to tell a story. It was everything Doctor Who ought to be and some of the things it shouldn’t but that’s okay. It’s better than whatever was going on for the past four weeks.

If The Hungry Earth felt like it was left over from the days of David Tennant and last week’s episode was originally meant to have aired last year, you would be forgiven this is another episode they pulled out of the vault. Very, very deep in the vault.

I think, perhaps, that’s a big part of why I enjoyed this episode so much. Yes, it’s all very NuWho at first, but just that little inch past the shiny surface, there’s a real air of the days of Patrick Troughton here. With a bit of tweaking, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the cosmic hobo moving about this acid monastery in monochrome.

It’s a classic base under siege. Capital C Classic. In Ye Olden Days, the base under siege stories were like this. Consider The Moonbase: the TARDIS lands on the moon to find a moonbase, which, it turns out, monitors and controls all the weather on earth. Hurricanes? No problem. They’ll be redirected away from shore until they fizzle out into just a nasty rainstorm. But lo! There are Cybermen on the moon, picking off the moonbase crew and trying to sabotage the base itself!

In fact this episode calls to mind all of Kit Pedler, who was the god of base under siege and Cybermen, having written The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase, and Tomb of the Cybermen, as well as having worked on The Wheel in Space. Substitute fleshy clones for some sort of tool of the Cybermen and he very well could have written this.

Go ahead. Play with the settings on your TV. When the titles are about to start, mute it and play the Derbyshire theme.

But it’s not just the fact that you could be forgiven for thinking the recon team drummed this out of the mothballs. It’s not just that The Rebel Flesh knows how to tell a story. The story it tells is actually good. Oh, sure, someone’s going to piss and moan about the fact that the whole cloning blues thing has been done a million times but who gives a sod?

The acting, most certainly, is a vital point here. One of the best moments is when Ganger!Jennifer (Gangifer?) is seated in the locker room, questioning her identity. A bit of well-played, understated acting from Arthur Darvill really helps drive home that understands her plight. Oh, sure, she’s all goopy-fleshy and he was all-plasticy, but it doesn’t change that Rory the Roman was once, essentially, a Ganger.

Oh, and it helps that Rory didn’t die. I mean really. He died at least three times last year – more, I’m sure, but three spring to mind – and in essentially every episode so far this series. Hopefully it won’t happen next week (or, preferably, ever again) but at least this week it made for a refreshing change. When Rory went running off on his own I half-expected Gangifer to drop from the ceiling onto him instead of Jennifer. And yet, here we are, credits rolled, Rory very much alive.

Another refreshing change, also relating to Rory, is that he actually does something this week. Usually it’s Amy running off being all “Look at me; I am the cool companion” while Rory just kind of stands around sputtering until someone stabs him. Here Rory actually does something. I mean actually. Meanwhile Amy does stuff, but nothing of any real consequence except run into Frances Barber yet again. It makes sense, in a way, why the roles would be the way they are normally, to the modern television writer. Rory is the nurse. The kind, gentle, caring one. Amy is the emotionally scarred daft one. The reversal here is a good one.

The performances across the board are great. Some are, of course, better than others, but hey ho such is life. Some actors are better than others. Some people are better at making cheese than their neighbours. It was also quite nice to see Matt Smith reunited with Raquel Cassidy. Party Animals had a lot of problems but it was still quite a good show, and the relationship between Jo and Danny is definitely one of the highlights, largely because of the two actors rather than the writing. My brain far too eternally associates Marshall Lancaster with Chris Skelton, unfortunately.

The episode is bang full of implications as well. Any story about a host of clones, of course, carries with it the natural implication of not being able to trust our senses. We may think that Miranda is Miranda but no. She turns out to be a Ganger. But that all adds to more-or-less straightforwardness present on the skin of the episode. There are hints here of something more. Something not quite right. We also have the hour during which our heroes were unconscious. Riding underneath everything, there’s a bit of McCoy era to it as well; as though the TARDIS hasn’t just somehow accidentally wound up on this monastery cum factory.

It’s also nice to see that, excepting Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, there’s not a Southerner to be found. That’s mostly just me though.

The episode isn’t perfect, but in light of the past four episodes it’s much easier to overlook the flaws of this week’s. The tension isn’t all quite there, but in addition to any flaws in the writing that can be pinned on the director, cinematographer, and the fact that cloning stories have been done to death. The cliffhanger, too, could be seen coming from centuries out, but what can you do?

All in all The Rebel Flesh isn’t the best episode of Doctor Who, but it’s still very much fantastic. Far and away the best episode of series six thus far. Who would have ever seen that coming?

*Well, that and it was written by the man who wrote Fear Her. I don’t hate Fear Her anywhere near as much as most of the online community, but it’s still overall a pretty poor episode.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I don't even know what to say anymore

Ah, The Doctor’s Wife. That one episode we’ve been promised for a very, very long time but never seemed quite to materialise. The one that quite a few people were starting to suggest would turn into the Stephen Fry episode*. The one that’s been hyped up to infinite ends because it was written by Neil Gaiman.

One of my many, many gripes about the New Series is the way in which the writing is done. A big part of what made Human Nature/Family of Blood so good** was the fact that it was just a question of Paul Cornell streamlining his novel for TV and obviously modifying the characterisations so Bernice was now Martha and the Seventh Doctor was now the Tenth Doctor. But, as has been admitted a fair few times on Confidential and the like, the writing on NuWho is often a case of the showrunner saying, “Right, episode ten: the one with pirates” and then someone goes and drafts a script. The worse episodes, I suspect, are the ones that are very shopping cart, like Victory of the Daleks.

This episode is a very welcome breather, in that it definitely was not a shopping list episode. Or if it was, Gaiman is talented enough to mask that fact completely. I suspect, though, that it truly was the former, and that Neil Gaiman merely wrote a script and worked with whomever the current script editor is, Moffat, and other people to keep things from spiralling out of budgetary control and within the context of the series’ overarching plot for the finale.

Ah, but for all its goodness, this episode still gets on my nerves. I don’t know. I think I’m at my wits end with NuWho. I watched the first three episodes dutifully, and while I was enjoying each of them on some level, it never really felt right. I thought perhaps I’d grown tired of Doctor Who after all these years, but no. I listened to The Massacre again the other night and watched The Edge of Destruction again earlier this evening, and I still quite like them. Actually, The Edge of Destruction is still one of my favourites, although I know a lot of fans won’t agree with me on that one.

Some of my gripes with this episode are a bit nitpicky. For example, Michael Sheen. Michael. Fucking. Sheen. One of the greatest actors alive today and this is how you use him? Oh yes, it’s a wonderful performance, as far as deep, boomy, technologically-modified voices go. But you may as well have said to Nick Briggs, “Oi mate, we’ve got another voice for you to do”. The odds of nabbing Sheen for Who again are slim, and this is how you use him?

And as is often my complaint with the new series, WHY IS THERE A FORTY FIVE MINUTE TIME LIMIT? The trouble with Doctor Who is it still insists on doing one-off stories. The reason Caprica worked so well during the first half of the season, the reason BSG worked so well, the reason DS9 was trailblazing, was because it said “Okay, forty-five minutes to an episode, but we’ll do series-wide arcs across episodes.” And yet here is Doctor Who, a show which BEGAN in serial format, suddenly saying “Once a week and we’ll toss in some vague clues in the most hamfisted manner possible that build up to the finale with varying degrees of success”. If they would make the show longer, like Moffat’s other project Sherlock, or go back to doing hour long serials like they experimented with in the 1980s, it would do Doctor Who a hell of a lot of good.

I think, really, this is my biggest complaint with The Doctor’s Wife. It’s well written, definitely. It’s nowhere near my favourite episode, and I doubt it would be even if it were given more time, but in the impossibly narrow space it has, it’s useless. I haven’t read much Gaiman, I admit, but what I’ve read is brilliant. And what we see here is trying to be brilliant. But it just isn’t. It isn’t anywhere near brilliant because the episode has no length to it, and because it has no length to it the episode has no time to establish anything – anything at all – that would lend it anything even vaguely resembling narrative weight. Ultimately, because the narrative isn’t allowed to be anything more than a series of cleverly written lines and some pretty shots, it becomes an exercise in abject futility.

I just really, seriously, am struggling to find anything good to say about this episode. Well, not anything. Like I said, there is good there. But it isn’t proper good. It isn’t something which makes me want to say, “You should go out and watch this” in the way a lot of First and Second Doctor serials do. Even episodes like The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and the Vampires of Venice, undoubtedly the three worst of last year, there is something there which makes me want to say, “Yeah, this is a proper story. It might not be the best, but go and watch it”.

As it stands we are now four episodes into Series Six, more than halfway through the spring half of the series (three episodes left to go and then no Doctor Who until September) and there has yet to be an episode I would call properly good. An episode I will sit down and want to watch again. An episode I can take someone who’s only a casual fan, or has maybe never seen the programme before, and get them to watch it. There has yet to be an episode that even feels anything like Doctor Who.

Definitely, of the four so far, if you have to watch one, watch this one. It’s certainly got good moments. Clever writing – clever writing that tries to be brilliant – and excellent direction and some wonderful acting from Sheen (as much as his role lends), Smith, and Jones (even if she does, at times, remind a bit too much of Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix). I suspect that when both halves are said and done, this will be amongst the best, if not THE best. But honestly it means nothing in the end. It’s just another hectic mess of forty-five minutes, another episode so void of that which makes narrative meaningful. It’s like watching the Transformers films. It’s shiny and fun and there’s a plot, but that doesn’t make it good.

I don't know. I want to like this episode. Not just because it's Neil Gaiman, not just because it's Doctor Who, but because the goodness is there. The goodness just feels stale. Flat. Smothered to the point well past deadness.

I really think I am just done with NuWho. Call me when we learn how to clone William Hartnell.

Next week: The guy who wrote one of the worst episodes of Who in recent memory, yet somehow created the sheer epicness of Life on Mars, gets a two-parter.

*Specifically, Stephen Fry wrote a script for the second season of the New Season, but budget constraints meant it had to be moved to the third series. Because Rose is no longer the Doctor’s companion in series three, however, it would have to have been edited to suit the new companion. Fry couldn’t find the time to edit the script accordingly, and it was never produced. I still hope he’ll write another in the future, though.

**Although not as good as the original novel. This is in part because the Seventh Doctor is my absolute favourite Doctor. This is also in part because I have yet to see a Seventh Doctor story which is entirely awful (seriously, the Seventh Doctor’s nature as a walking Xanatos Speed Chess requires at least some degree of careful storytelling). But, mostly, this is because it is a novel, and as with any adaptation things are always left out because A. there are elements of a novel which do not work on film and B. even parts that work have to be cut for runtime, whereas a novel can be however long it pleases.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's been months since I've actually watched QI

and this is still my favourite moment in the entire programme to date.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's a good bit of filler, ultimately

I suspect that this episode is going to be The Lodger, or Victory of the Daleks (interestingly, the third episode of last series), or similar when the series is said and done. It’s a good episode, certainly. But it’s hardly to get particularly enthused about it. Ultimately the failings of the Curse of the Black Spot are by and large the fault of outside sources.

For one thing, I’m a history nerd. One of the areas of history which interests me most of all is piracy. I’ve done loads of reading and have spent four years now hunting down the most authentic copy of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates* possible. And this episode deals with the greatest pirate to ever have lived. The man who was referred to as King of the Pirates – for good reason. Henry Avery. Most of the historical discrepancies in the story I’m willing to forgive because hey, it’s entertainment. I still wish Avery had been given a straight-up old fashioned historical, but that’s a minor gripe. Where I do exceedingly take issue, however, is the prequel to thisepisode, which was posted on the Beeb’s site and has since been copied places.

The prequel sets the story in 1699, THREE YEARS after Henry Avery disappeared. Also, going by the prequel and the episode, they’re still aboard the Fancy, which had been abandoned in the Bahamas by that point, and it suggests no one of the 113-man crew is left to be caught by the English (okay, only 12 were ever found), which means the greatest feat ever pulled off by Henry Avery never happens in the Whoniverse. Specifically, when Avery reached Britain and departed from his crewmen, he told each and every one of them he was going to a different place, and never the place where he would actually be, so that if any of them were ever captured the English would never find him. To this day no one knows where Avery went.

Beyond my historical gripes with it though, I think the absolute largest problem facing this episode is that it’s essentially filler. It’s a known fact that it has been moved from the autumn half of the series to this slot, and the trouble with NuWho is it bigs up event episodes to the point that anything that isn’t or in some way doesn’t significantly tie into the event episode feels lost in the sea of events. And any episode which can be moved so freely is almost certainly not the most important thing in the scheme of things. With the Moff at the helm, you can never be sure, but it certainly feels that way. Indeed, the only trappings of the overall arc are another appearance of the woman who is currently credited as the Eyepatch Lady (I know more, but shan’t spoil), Future!Eleven’s death, and Amy’s Schrödinger’s womb, as the good people of twitter have nicknamed it.

It’s also known that airing in this slot originally was going to be Neil Gaiman’s episode. An episode which has been pumped up both for the content it contains, and because it’s Neil Gaiman writing it. Any episode wedged between Moffat’s two-part opener and any episode written by Neil Gaiman is bound to feel a bit lost. Had this been airing in the autumn, when it was originally meant to, or even just this upcoming Saturday, when The Doctor’s Wife is now airing, it would probably feel less stale.

All in all, though, The Curse of the Black Spot is a good episode of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is, as usual, excellent as the Doctor. Karen Gillan continues to do well as Amy, even if she isn’t strictly the best actress out there. Arthur Darvill still carries on making Rory my favourite NuWho companion, even if, as others have pointed out, his penchant for death and near-death is beginning to get a wee bit tiresome. The incidental guest cast, as well, does their job well, though perhaps not quite as much so. Special mention must go to Hugh Bonneville, who easily turned in the best performance of the cast, though. (Incidentally,this is Bonneville’s second appearance in Doctor Who)

Unfortunately, though, this reminds me of another problem with the Curse of the Black Spot, and one that is the fault of its own writing. For all its nice touches and little hints, ultimately there isn’t much depth to Whoniverse’s Henry Avery beyond that which Bonneville’s acting suggests. For a Navyman turned pirate with a wife and son, trapped in a calm sea and crew stalked by a siren, there’s not quite much to him.

Ultimately, as I keep repeating, this is a good episode. Like the majority of filler episodes it does its job well but probably won’t stand long in the memory. If you just sit down and enjoy it for all its trappings, there’s definitely fun to be had here. And there are certainly worse filler episodes (Boom Town, Fear Her). Unfortunately, by being filler, it leaves us waiting. Last episode ends with the Doctor deciding not to investigate the little girl, which is a frequent and somewhat annoying thing NuWho does. Annoying because, well, it makes no sense, but also annoying because, as fans, we want to find out about the girl RIGHT NOW. The Curse of the Black Spot never really offers anything towards the greater arc, nothing apparent at least (we’ll see come the end of the series), but it does still offer a nice adventure.

Next week: Neil Gaiman, Michael Sheen, Time Lords(?), oh my!

(Also, for those who paid attention to the series trailer, this episode is almost certainly going to contain the epic exchange of: "Fear me, I've killed hundreds of Time Lords." "Fear me, I've killed them all.") 

*Pick it up if you have the chance. It’s where a lot of our pirate knowledge comes from. We’ve since learned a lot of things in it have been made up, but it’s still the primary source. It’s also where the term Jolly Roger comes from (protip: the Jolly Roger isn’t the flag; it’s the symbol on the flag. The flag is called a blackjack). It’s where the myth of pirates burying treasure comes from. So on and so forth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This movie is amazing

Go watch it. Like, right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Here we go again

The gap between seasons of television programmes can be a bit tortuous at times. There's football, girlfriends, and all manner of other entertainment in the meanwhile so that, eventually, one stops noticing. The run up to the new seasons of Doctor Who can be especially unbearable, considering it has gone from "That highly entertaining, slightly campy thing the BBC airs ever now and again" to being the BBC's flagship. The buildup starts bang out of the gate after the first episode ends. Dripping, dripping, dripping with increasing frequency and then BAM! Short trailer, long trailer, magazines, interviews, and everything else in the time between the Christmas special and the new season.

Anyway, the point is the long wait is over. It's been more than a year since The Eleventh Hour hit televisions, and something like 43 weeks since the last series ended. Spoilers, as usual, will be found.

It's a nice change of pace, having the status quo intact. It's something we haven't really seen since the Classic Series, which always seems to meld seamlessly. This notion is of course aided by the fact that it is now being watched online and on DVD, but no doubt it was the case back in the sixties, when Doctor Who was on effectively year round. Series One was responsible for introducing a new generation to the Whoniverse, Series Two brought a new Doctor, Series Three and Four brought new companions, and Series Five brought a new everything. So it's nice, here, to begin with the same old Doctor, same old Amy and Rory, same old River.

There is, of course, that glimmer of fear. Early in the episode, when the Doctor is shot and begins to regenerate, there is that moment where your heart stops. After all, there are never a plethora of clips in the trailers -- often because they haven't finished editing the end of the season yet -- and we don't know how anything fits into anything. People assumed the scribbled-on faces were a part of Gaiman's episode, but they've been revealed to be the next episode. And being that the Moff is the man in charge, misdirection is the name of the game. Aided by the Doctor's romp through time, doing all the things he'd want to do, it does reinforce in the back of the mind the notion that when Matt Smith goes all glowy, Michael Sheen or Nicholas Hoult or someone will suddenly be standing there, new face reflecting in the astronaut's visor.

In the Moff, though, we are in safe hands. The Doctor is not dead in the literal sense -- well, he is. Wibbly-wobbly -- but he is dead in the way Moffat warned us. Over the course of the RTD era, in addition to a lot of other problems, the viewpoint shifted to that of the Doctor. It's very tempting to focus on the clever alien with the magic blue box, and while the series has never totally ignored him, at its best it knew when to keep a distance (see: the first two Doctors, the Seventh Doctor). Killing the Doctor allows us to see the rest of the narrative through his companions' eyes, and by and large it works.

But the clever opening creates a problem. Like Amy, we spend our time trying to come to grips with the incident. Naturally we actively take in everything else that occurs, but there is always that niggling thought at the back of our minds. No doubt this is what Moffat wanted, but I can't help but feel that it's somewhat detrimental to open, well, like that.

Another problem I have with this episode, and I suspect will be carried over to the next episode, is that for all the bigging up of America, this story could just have easily taken place on the banks of the Clyde and no one would even really notice the difference. This is ultimately a good thing. You can't help but feel that if they had gone to America while RTD was writing it would have been sixty minutes of everyone preening and being all starry-eyed and...well, thank god it didn't happen. Still, for all their bigging up of this, it feels like a letdown. It seemed like we were finally going to get our Two Doctors; a story which was originally going to be set in New Orleans and have a bit of a light jab at the differences between English and American society. Instead we get just another story.

On a semi-related note, the man playing Nixon. I don't expect dead ringers, but every time I got a shot of the man my brain thought LBJ. There's a bit too much gravel to the voice as well, but hey ho. It's a minor niggle, like I said.

It's always hard to judge a two parter written by Steven Moffat. The man's Doctor Who episodes always tend to be a bit ADHD; or, to modify an example from elsewhere, like giving a teenage boy Karen Gillan's Shortlist photos whilst he's sitting in a course on quantum physics. (On a very much related note: Yes, please.) But also because of the way the Moffat tells stories, the little tricks he likes to use. This episode was everything you'd expect from Moffat, but it wasn't textbook. Sitting down and looking at it, the boxes have been ticked, but by and large the boxes are not noticeable. Well, at least until you get up to use the restroom and find yourself fearing another of the Moff's classical psychological horror aliens will assault you. Oh Moffat. You do so love to give me heart attacks.

Anyway, back on track. Like I said, this episode, like a lot of Moffat episodes, is very ADHD. No sooner has the Doctor died we're meeting the past Doctor, and no sooner that than we're in the Oval Office than Amy's in the restroom and so on and so forth. This episodes whizzes past, moreso than any other I can think of really. Things like the Eleventh Hour and The Lodger have a bit of fun breeziness to them, but this is outright whooshing.

Not that this should be seen as a criticism. It's fast, sometimes perhaps a bit too fast, but it's a good fast. By and large the writing is good, the kind of good you would expect from Moffat. Little touches like Canton telling Nixon that he was his second choice for President, or the careful steering of the two characters who wouldn't recognize the Timeship (okay, Amy technically wouldn't) to it. Or that all signs to point to River being in the astronaut suit when the Doctor dies, but knowing Moffat as we do it's bound to be something much, much more delicious. But there are some moments as well that give pause. The end of the episode, for example. The revelation that Amy's sickness is caused by pregnancy and not the Silence is a good one, but it feels clunky and wrong when it happens. And the cliffhanger? I'm just not feeling it tonight.

Ultimately I'm not sure how I feel about this episode. There's the initial giddiness of Doctor Who's return, and it's definitely very good on its own merits, but somehow it feels lukewarm. Perhaps it's because of the very status quo which is welcome. Every new season opened with something new, something to galvanize and explore and captivate. And here we have just another well-done episode. You could smack this in the middle of last series and not really miss a hell of a lot.

Is that good? Probably.

The Impossible Astronaut definitely is. It just feels like it could have been something more. Considering this is a Moffat two-parter though, it's difficult to judge without the second half, so we'll see in another week.

Meanwhile, welcome back Doctor Who. God how I've missed you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dear English, why are you so lame?

Sometimes I wish I spoke a different language. As if somehow that would make my writing better. As I sat grinding out more writing this morning, or trying to at least, for whatever reason I found myself remembering things I'd learned long ago. Words and phrases which exist in other languages, but never quite seem to be able to be encapsulated by English.

It started with nakama. Nowadays just used to mean a companion or friend, traditionally nakama was a word for a bond so close no other language could ever hope to adequately describe it. And there was a Portuguese word I learned once. I know how to pronounce it but not spell it, and considering the very odd rules of Portuguese it is definitely spelled differently from how it is pronounced. But it was a word they use to refer to a feeling of something lost; that sense of what we had then can never be again.

Even Latin, a rather basic and simplistic language, has phrases and words like these. But English doesn't. And attempts to reconcile them into English always fall flat at best or spend forever never coming anywhere near the target at worst. I think maybe that's why I like learning other languages, despite the fact that I have always been bad at learning languages. Maybe it's because English is essentially a gradual assimilation of all other languages, but something about it is just so dull. Not even just in terms of things like Italian or Portuguese sounding nicer. Russian and German certainly aren't easy on the ear, but compared to English there's something so incredible about them.

Maybe I'm just weird.

(Definitely rambling here. Oh self.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Have a song

So right now my brain is absolutely blanking on a post for today, Character Month or otherwise. Ordinarily I would just wait to see if I have any ideas tomorrow and grind something out late in the evening if I still have nothing.

But I'm leaving very early tomorrow to go visit bestie, and so much of tomorrow will be spent driving and then while I shall in theory have internet access, in practice I will probably not be online at all. So unless something comes to me before I go to sleep, enjoy this placeholder post and I will do my last two CM posts in the last week and a half-ish of March.

(I am far too addicted to Bruno Mars for some reason)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Characters should be like your sweetheart

Sort-of continuing on from my last, rather slapdash post...

As has been noted by plenty of writers, you always wind up knowing more about your characters than makes the page. And as I have noted here and there in the past, I always end up knowing a lot. So much so that the characters may as well be people I live with. Full names, dates of birth, maybe not their entire life story but a very good chunk of it up to the here and now, even an idea of what their mobile phone and cars look like.

I stated in a recent post that the Addie (protagonist of recent WIP) is a closeted lesbian. Whether or not this actually comes up remains to be seen, but as of this moment I'm thinking it won't actually actively be raised in the story. At best, hinted at. So if it's not coming up in the story itself, why is it important? Because that's who she is. Take everything else the same and make her heterosexual and she's not Adeline Carrow. Each and every piece of information helps me to write her more accurately.

(There's also the added fact that her being straight rather diminishes the point of another character, but that's another ramble for another time)

The same is true of the fact that Jack Walker smokes a very particular brand of cigarette (Gitanes Brunes) and carries a modified Makarov PM. Or of the fact that Ashley is allergic to peanuts. Or that Addie's car is silver.

To know their clothes and their tastes and their personality is to write them. These characters are not mine. They are people, just the same as you and I and the Eastern European guy who lives across that street and I swear is a mafioso or a spy. The only way you can ever hope to do them justice is to know them just as well as you know yourself, or your partner, or a dear friend.

To know a character is the only way to write them. To know their story is the only way to write it.

That's why I like knowing everything about a character, or as near to everything as you could ever hope to know about someone. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing them justice. And if I can't do them justice, who am I to try and tell their story?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mostly just an excuse to post some pictures

I was just going to post pictures from my latest trip to Scotland because I was bored, but then I was reading a thread on an SC Braga forum ahead of our Europa League tie there, and immediately had three responses. One: Braga fans seem like top blokes. Two: Go look up Braga because I’ve never been to Portugal and boy howdy does it seem like a nice place. Three: I love the way people can get about places. And this made me think of writerly things, so enjoy Braga and Scotland-inspired thoughts punctuated by pictures of my holiday.

There’s no doubt that a good setting is one which feels real. Indeed, it’s the way any setting should be. Otherwise it’s just a place, and who cares how many bookstores or houses there are or how perfectly you can draw a map if it’s just a place? True, setting shouldn’t overshadow everything. But it is integral. A story set in Marseille will be inherently different than one in Lyonnais, even if the bulk of the narrative itself suffers little to no change.

And I think the real trick is to take into account the way someone feels about a place. Even if they dislike it, even if they hate it, I have never known anyone to be “GRRRAWRSUCKZEVULZRAWR” about every last little thing. People are complex, just like the places they inhabit. To just say “I hate this place” or “I love it here” isn’t strictly accurate.

But what is it about a place that makes someone feel the way they do? Certainly someone proud of Braga says “If you’ve never been in Braga, you have never been in the real Portugal”. But that pride doesn’t come from nowhere. And indeed, my own love for Scotland doesn’t come from nowhere either, but it’s such that in my original post I had closed with “Seriously, Scotland is an amazing place full of brilliant people and if you’ve never been what are you doing with your life?”

Ultimately I don’t know. I wish I knew, but I don’t. But I think understanding that, understanding both the way someone can love or hate a place, and why they do, is the only way to write it. Rankin’s Edinburgh is both the real Edinburgh and Edinburgh filtered through the eyes of Rebus. Just as if I were to write about my hometown, it would be my hometown and my hometown filtered through the eyes of myself. Or if I were to write about Scotland, it would be irrevocably linked to my Scotland.

Indeed, even these pictures are not Scotland as it is, but Scotland as I love.

But seriously, Scotland is an amazing place full of brilliant people and if you’ve never been, what are you doing with your life?

(These are mostly pictures of nothing because while I really have little issue with posting images of my friends (i.e. semi-liveblog from August) I feel like it kind of goes against the point. They are by and large full of snow because I was there for most of January, and, well, Scotland's climate)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The most important day of the year

That's what this is. Playing Manchester United at Anfield. Time to show those filthy Mancs who's boss.

Gut's been right for the past two. Felt like a draw, drew against Wigan. Bad feeling all week, got a 3-1 drumming at West Ham. But this? Fuck it. Ever since I woke up Monday morning I've just been feeling so, so good about this one. Really think we can tear those bastards apart.

In advance of the day's events, time to once again remember one of our better recent performances against the Mancs:

And of course, the last time we faced them at home:

Friday, March 4, 2011

In which I change my mind

Early last month I gave a bad, rough overview of death of the author while staying up to all hours. In that post I said I don't really have an opinion on death of the author, and while that still holds true from a standpoint of analysis and criticism, the more I think about it the more I realise that, actually, I'm a bit more in favour of word of god when it comes to characters. When I say a bit more I mean absolutely.

Not to say that there isn't room for some degree of alternate interpretations, but I think that the author's view of the character isn't just a view, it is the character.

We always know more about the characters than the page conveys. We have to. To know a character is to be able to write that character. Knowing how someone behaves now without understanding why they are the way they are gets you nowhere. The character falls flat. But just because you know the reasons behind their behaviour it doesn't mean you have to include them in the narrative either.

A story is just that. A story. You only have so much time, so many pages to tell a story. Even if you had a million million pages, it's important to keep the story to the story. Sure, you probably will end up with some degree of information that could be left out.

I don't have to mention early in my current manuscript that Ashley usually just slaps together jeans, hoodie, sloppy bun: good to go. But I do, because it isn't an entirely unnecessary divergence, and it tells you more about her (and also spares me having to describe things every so often, and I don't describe characters much because I like to leave the physical bits up to the reader).

The story is the story. But you have to know your characters to write your characters. So, invariably, a lot more detail will make the cut than actually makes the page, either through implication or direct statement. Yet the lack of this information being apparent on the page doesn't make it any less true.

An author doesn't necessarily know everything, but we know more than we let on. For me at least, when it comes to characters, word of god is precisely that. No comprise, no discussion. A character is who they are, and who they are is on the page and in the author's mind.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Literature is a bad influence

Things I ought to be doing
1. Keeping the animals out of trouble
2. Cleaning
3. Coursework
4. Cooking and ingesting foodages
5. Running/weight lifting/something to that effect
6. Telephoning people
7. Getting ready for classes
8. Cleaning
9. Feeding the animals
10. Did I mention the cleaning?

Things I have been doing
2. Writing. Not really a lot.
3. Repeat above ad infinitum.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Return of Character Month

Last year I decided to make March Character Month simply because fellow writerlies were beginning to follow the blog and it seemed like an easy way to shift the paradigm away from eccentric ramblings to writing (yeah, because that lasted).

The original Character Month fell off the rails quickly and although I tried to get back to it towards the end of the month it never quite recovered. Still, Character Month is a concept I like, so we're going to try again this year.

Character Month is essentially exactly what it says on the tin. The primary focus of posts for the month of March is to be characters. Interviews, overviews, analysis of archetypes, whether it involves your character's or a mate's or, again, is just a discussion of a type of character, it's fair game. If it involves characters, you're good to go.

For my own part we're going to take a lesson from last year and rather than try to make every single post character-centric, we're going to strive for a minimum one Character Month post per week. So that's at least five Character Month posts. Anything extra will be rewarded with tea and cookies. As with last year, you're more than welcome, nay, I encourage you to join in on the Character Month fun on your own blog.

Hopefully this year we can keep things running a bit more smoothly.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Writerly Types

Dwayne McDuffie died recently. Very recently. In an interview he gave not too long ago, he was quoted as saying, "Usually, when we adapt things, there's a really good hook, but there's not really a clear storyline. Or there's a really good story, but then no hook. We have to change it to make it work."

And this reminded me of something I was thinking about the other day.

It seems to me there are two kinds of writers: Those with insane imaginations, and those with an absurd gift for words. There are advantages and disadvantages to being each but I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. And sure, there's probably a bit of overlap sometimes.

But I've been thinking lately about books I've read, and fellow writers I know, and myself as I thought about imaginer v wordsmith. And, perhaps more importantly, how to cope. Because ultimately it doesn't matter how amazing your idea is if your writing falls flat, but equally you could be the next Shakespeare/Tolstoy/Joyce (okay, maybe not that last one) but if you can't come up with a good hook no one's going to want your book.

Of course, revisions can help take care of that, but it's not as simple as fixing a few sentences. It takes careful, thoughtful revision.

But beyond that, my mind has little to nothing, so let's turn this over to you. Which do you think you're better at: The idea or the execution? How do you compensate for it, if at all?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sex is so last century

Not like that. Honestly, you people.

I don't want to say there's an obsession, because that would be untrue, but I think there is still a decent degree of focus placed on the sex* of a protagonist. A lot of focus placed on what's more popular, what sells more, why there's so much of male heroes in Story Type A and females in Type B and so on and so forth. And then I also see people stressing about writing protagonists of their opposite sex.

It's something I myself was guilty of. Over the summer, when I first started working on one of my two current WIPs, I would stress about whether or not I was writing females accurately. My concern was more about the protagonist's friend than the protagonist herself, and I thought by observing my female friends (who far, far outnumber my male friends (make of that what you will)) that I could get a better idea of things.

And I don't want to say this didn't help, because it did. In fact two of my friends formed the entire base from which I worked to construct Ashley's best friend. But as I tried to work on the first chapter stressing about this, I realised something.

It's pointless to worry about the sex of your hero.

A character is a character. Media is full of tropes and assumptions about both sexes and genders, and yes it would be lying to say there are no differences at all, but at the end of the day what do those differences amount to? Nothing of any significant capacity. One wears a bra and one doesn't. I know men who act radically different from some women I know, and I know women who behave radically differently from other women I know.

There are no hard and fast rules for how a man or a woman should act or think. For every five examples of a rule you can find, I can probably find five people who subvert it.

Lately my protagonists have been female. My most recent one is also a (closeted) lesbian. Had I tried this most recent one back in June, or had I just been trying to write two stories with heroines back in June, I would be wigging out of my skull right now. But anymore, I just don't care what they are. At the end of the day, all the matters is that you have an amazing character.

*Yes, I mean sex and not gender. Sex is physical, gender is psychological/identity. Although how much fiction is there with a transgender hero?

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I find that lately my third person narrative is lengthier than my first person narrative. Not that it's necessarily more verbose (although I concede in some places it might be), but that I wind up using words I wouldn't use in first person narrative. On the one hand this is understandable because first person narrative is, well, first person. If the character whose viewpoint it's meant to be is unfamiliar with a word or wouldn't regularly use a word, it probably will not turn up in their writing. And yet something about third person makes me decide to use those words.

I also find that my third person writing tends to have more description while still being not very descriptive at all. Again, this could be down to differences of style between the two, but all of this strikes me as odd.

Like, why is there a greater disparity between my first and third person narratives than seems normal?

It's weird. But then, I'm a weird dude.

On a semi-related note: The opening sentence of this idea is driving me up a wall with my inability to decide how to phrase it.

On a completely unrelated note: What is it about marred place names that stick in the mind? I was reading an article which, correctly, says "...from Ukraine" but my mind wants to call it the Ukraine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

We happy few

I’ve been thinking lately about a lot of things pertaining to writing – things which could stay in my head or find their way here – but there was a thought I had the other night which was today reinforced.

It snowed quite heavily recently and although the snow is mostly melted there is still a lot, and it looks as though it will snow again soon. Even before the big snow there was a lot of ice. As a result of the weather, I haven’t ridden my horse in quite some time. Even longer when one considers I was on holiday in Scotland, and before that it was Christmas. So today I decided to make the trip up to the barn and see what things were like, and at the very least pay some attention to the old boy if I couldn’t ride him.

It can be difficult to explain to someone who’s never ridden a horse long enough to forge a genuine relationship, so I’m not even going to try. However, the day’s activities did make me remember what I was thinking about the other night, and I think really they help me to express my thoughts a bit better.

In addition to being rather overjoyed to see me again, he was more than eager to go after having been cooped up for a while (he had gotten out before the snow, and I’m told they turned them out briefly since the snow started melting away but the pasture was still too icy), so much so that he didn’t even protest the thought of having to go out with someone his back, which he usually does for the first few feet – understandable, really, if you think about it for more than half a second. Unfortunately, he wanted to go which was something conditions didn’t really allow for. But I felt sorry for him, having been confined to the stable for so long and then not being able to move at pace.

I knew the other end of a nearby river (officially it is a creek, but it is very wide and in places the water is up to my chest so you cannot tell me that is not a river), tended to be hit less hard whenever we got big snowstorms, so I decided to try heading over there. For many horses this can be a non-issue, but my horse takes to water like a kitten, so even being near it was not a particularly pleasing event for him. We couldn’t go around because that means going a long way out, and although I tried to find a place that wasn’t too deep with the snow and ice melting recently it was going to be fairly deep anywhere. And much as he may have disliked it, we forded it.

Unfortunately there was too much snow and ice on the other side as well, so we were confined to a walk, but it was while we were crossing back a few hours later that I specifically remembered my thoughts the other night. Never once on our walk did I have to tell him to slow down or hold steady. I could tell he wanted to move, in fact he probably wanted to move a lot faster than I would have liked to, but he never tried to quicken his walk or burst into a trot or canter. He stayed at a good pace the entire time. Even though he hates water, he crossed the river twice with no real complaints. He did these things not because he was told to, but because I told him to. If a friend had hopped up and tried to cross the river, my friend would be lying on a rock in agony and my horse would be back away from the embankment.

And I think it’s important for us to find people like that. A friend upon whom we may rely thoroughly. Someone who, no matter how much we may dislike what they are saying, we know we can trust their judgment. Someone who will not let us just blindly do whatever we want, but do their best to make sure it is safe. Someone who we know will always be there to offer support when we need it and criticism even when we may not wish to hear it.

This person doesn’t need to be your beta. They don’t need to be a fellow writerly. They just need to be that person, and you in turn must be that for them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


We interrupt your regularly scheduled my-incoherent-sort-of-writing-related-ramblings for some new, off the cuff thoughts.

So as I've stated numerous times I have plenty of friends from Scotland. I say from because a few of them are now living in England or, in the case of one friend, Belgium*. Anyway I have a plethora of friends in Scotland and this morning I have been speaking to some of them. Well, actually, I woke up to an email from a friend teasing me because the weather here is less-than-pleasant and it's 8 (46F) and sunny there today which lead to me calling her and us talking for a while.

Then just a very short while ago I received a call from one of my friends who attends the University of Glasgow. And that call is why I am writing this post while my brain is still processing things.

Okay, so a little background.

Last spring you will recall I was following the British news a lot more closely than I do on a normal basis (which is very closely) because there was an upcoming general election, which occurred in May. No party won a sufficient number of seats to command a majority of Parliament (a hung Parliament) but because the Conservatives held the most seats they were given first run at forming government, which has produced the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

I won't go into reasons why because this can turn into some very muddy waters, but suffice it to say that as you would expect from the Conservatives there have been cuts. One of the many places to see budget cuts is higher education. Understandably, programmes must be cut and some courses will face closure because they simply cannot maintain costs with a lesser budget. This is fine.

However, one has to wonder just what the logic is behind the cuts here. According to the friend who called me** nursing, adult education, social work, and anthropology are getting scrapped. The first one seems a bit excessive but may be understandable IF there isn't big enough market. It still seems stupid to drop nursing altogether, but if you only have like two dozen nursing students I could understand it. History, classics, and archaeology will merge. Okay.

What angers me more, and actually what prompted this, is their slashing of modern languages and cultures. German, Russian, Polish, Czech, Italian, comparative literature, Slavonic studies, and basically all other similar courses (the friend who called said that they're basically getting rid of everything but French). And it's...why? What purpose does this possibly serve?

Yes, the budget has been cut and they need to compensate. Yes, the degree of cuts all schools are facing is beyond crazy. I get that.

But why the language/culture studies? Glasgow has actually seen a rise in the number of students taking those courses. Surely this would be the first department or among the first you try to save? There's not much more important than foreign language and culture studies.

Oh well. Nothing to be done but keep in the loop and hope things turn out for the best.

*Also is it me or is Belgium borderline an inherently funny word?
**I intend to call another friend who attends the same school shortly, to see if I can't find out more. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Like a chemistry major only less cool

I'm not one for keeping schedules. Schedules and I are like Remus and Romulus, Cain and Abel. Oh sure, I get things done. They usually even get done in a timely manner, but adhering to an actual schedule is not something I can do.

Still, I feel like this place needs some sense of rhythm. So I'm going to launch a little experiment.

Since I'm going to post every Friday next month as part of something I have planned, I'm going to start trying to post every Friday for the rest of this month as well. I'll still probably end up posting at other times, but I'm aiming for at the very least one post every Friday.

Pending the results of this experiment, things may be lengthened into, say, M/W/F or T/Th/F or just M/F or it may just stay Friday, or I may do away with a schedule altogether.

But, please, do remember to wear your safety glasses.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts ahead of class

As you can probably tell from just a quick glance at the past year of my blog I probably spend more time thinking about why my writing sucks and coming up with excuses not to write than I do actually writing, and even though recently I went on a roll I've since stumbled into some sort of middle ground between my usual and being on a roll – that is, I don’t write often but when I do write I churn out a lot more than I normally do. I find this amusingly ironic given the advice in my newly minted FAQ section; advice which I have been spouting for at least two months yet I am myself unable to adhere to for any considerable length of time.

I think more than anything it’s simply that I allow myself to get distracted, to stay a coward.

We all have a magical monster called Life that likes to intervene from time to time, with varying amounts of frequency from person to person, but really that’s no excuse to not write. “I have to go to class in two hours” or “I wonder what Alice/Phil/Lucy is up to?” are not excuses to keep from writing, not really, but I make them excuses.

They’re weak excuses at that too. “I can’t write now. I’m in math” is valid enough, except ninety percent of the time I’m not paying attention to my math class. I’m thinking about stuff or on twitter or reading, so clearly I could be writing.

And I think the reason I find things to intervene is because I’m afraid to keep on writing, afraid to move on to everything that comes after. It’s no secret I think of my writing as awful. In fact, my writing is awful. But by not writing, I never have to move on to anything that comes after, and by never having to move on to finding a beta or querying, I never have someone to absolutely confirm that which I already know.

But it’s a fear I’m going to have to get over.

Late last month I promised myself I would write at least 2 pages per day, not really expecting to reach that limit but under the thinking that if I say I will set out to do two pages per day, even if I can only achieve half the goal that is still excellent progress. It’s a goal I haven’t been living up to because I’ve been finding things to intervene.

I’ve done about three quarters of a page today. Probably a bit more actually. Math is not my strong suit. Unfortunately I really, legitimately do have to leave for class very shortly, but instead of just pretending to pay attention while thinking about other things, I’m going to work towards the rest of those 2 pages. And even though I hate writing in the evening, I’m going to work towards those two pages.

Sure, life tries to throw caltrops every now and again, but there’s no reason to go throwing caltrops for yourself. If there’s time, there’s time to write. No excuses.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things I have been doing instead of writing

1. Watching PBS/Harry Potter/Skins

2. Finding things to keep both myself and friend busy while the rather unpleasant weather keeps us shut up in the house

3. Reading comics

4. Plugging in my lava lamp and being far too fascinated by the movements

5. Talking to certain people way too much

6. Digging up the N64 (see #2)

7. Reading books

8. Using the weather as an excuse to put off mailing things

9. Screaming at my inability to think up ideas for an upcoming blog thing

10. Not writing.

Le sigh. You know like halfway through January I said to myself, "Self, we need to get back on that roll we were on before Christmas. So from now on you're not allowed to go to sleep until you've done at least two new pages every day." And then we go ahead and don't write for nine days, then barely write for two, and are back to not writing. Way to go self. Way. To. Go.

**Actual posts to come in the near future I swear**

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Are you willing to die for your art?

There's a concept in literary criticism called death of the author. Nowadays it's often used to reject a statement from the author (word of god) that a reader disagrees with, but in the essay in which it originally appeared, Roland Barthes argued that the author's life should not be taken into account when interpreting a story. In either sense, the author's intent is equally ignored. In a nutshell, death of the author is carte blanche for the reader. Your interpretations are the only things which count.

Of course, death of the author may not seem applicable to what a lot of us write. I would say most people aren't setting out to write a satire of the military-industrial complex. And yeah, excessive analysis of a story can get really, really obnoxious (and is often a fatal flaw of secondary school English courses). This doesn't mean, though, there aren't things which can't be read into a story. Shippers wouldn't exist if there wasn't something, somewhere they saw as giving basis to their preferred couple. Maybe you mean for your hero to have Motivation X, but to Reader A it seems like Motivation L and Reader B sees Motivation Q.

I've been thinking about death of the author recently for three reasons.

1. It's almost 1.30 in the morning and I'm staying up to see if a sick friend is feeling better when they wake up and so I need to find ways to amuse myself lest I start to get sleepy

2. I saw John Green recently state, paraphrasing due to shoddy memory here, "once a book is published it belongs to the readers and not the author". He is like the living embodiment of this concept apparently.

3. I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my writing. Not that I would be some belligerent god whose word is law, but I am extremely self-conscious with regards to everything, and so for me it is vitally important that a story be 100% flawless before I share it with someone. If it isn't, the moment they find something wrong all hell will break loose. So I feel like my mind might see any interpretations people have which run contra to my intent as a flaw with my writing.

Of course, different authors over the years have had different opinions with regards to the concept. Tolkien himself, while never outright stating it, said things which suggest he was a supporter of the notion. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, very much wasn't.

Ultimately, I find myself largely apathetic to the concept, at least right now. This may be because I do view myself as writing nothing more than modern pulps, it may be genuine apathy, or it may be because I have no rabid fangirls to present their insane theories to me.

Of course, this is just a simplistic overview. More info may be found on wiki and via googling the term, if you feel you want more.

What about you? Would you embrace the concept, reject it, or just generally not care? 

Monday, January 31, 2011


So so so so so SO made up we have signed this guy. Also overpaid a bit for this titan.

More writerly things to come soon probably. Sekrit planz are in motion for the spring at least. (Okay maybe not that sekrit. But they are definitely planz)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Actually reviewing a book instead of Doctor Who

I was asked by Mia to review this when I told her I bought Paper Towns, and because it’s a book she has yet to read but is seriously looking forward to I was also asked to keep it relatively spoiler free so I’ve done my best in that respect.

Still, I feel it’s important to give a brief overview of the story, so limiting to basically what the back cover tells you, here’s the nutshell: Quentin (protag) and his next door neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman, are pretty good friends as little ones but jump cut to high school and they don’t really hang out anymore and also he is totally crushing on her. She shows up at his window one night, hijinks and hilarity ensue, and then suddenly she disappears and leaves behind a string of clues for Q to follow.

Ordinarily I hate drawing comparisons between authors, but one thought which popped into my head early on was that John Green is like Terrance Dicks. The more I think about it the more I realise that comparison doesn’t really work particularly well, but it refuses to leave my mind. About the only point I can’t find examples that shatter the comparison would be the fact that both authors have a really, seriously addictive voice, or writing style, or whatever you want to call it. Even if nothing in particular is going on, I found myself wholly engaged and not wanting to put the book down. Even in the very early stages of the book I was hooked, which outside of Terrance Dicks happens very rarely for me. So I think that’s probably where my mind is drawing that comparison from.

I think the weakest point of the book is the prologue. It’s not dull per se, but it somehow lacks the same captivating quality as the rest of the book. I paused once during the prologue and set the book down briefly after reading it to do other things, mostly because transatlantic flights are long and I didn’t want to breeze through it so quickly. When I got to the first chapter proper, I was hooked from the first sentence and no longer cared if I finished the book before my flight was over (I didn’t finish it). I’m not sure why this is. Reading it back again it still strikes as being just...less than the rest of the narrative if that makes sense, but it’s still well written and while not exactly pivotal, is important to the rest of the narrative, so no skipsies.

The mystery is a bit grand and at times one has to wonder just how much time was spent preparing certain steps of it (from an in-universe perspective, I mean), but it still comes across as something which could conceivably be done. It’s easy to see why this book won an Edgar. It’s not a mystery in the sense that as with Agatha Christie or some of Conan Doyle one is veritably invited to attempt to solve the mystery first, but the mystery here is well constructed and if a lot of thought didn’t go into planning it, then someone please make sure John Green never turns to a life of crime, because I am afraid of his mystery-on-the-fly abilities. I doubt this is the case though.

Also to his credit, as noted above, it comes across very naturally; like a high school senior really could pull this off. I read a lot of crime fiction and while I’ve read some mighty good mysteries, often times even the best ones require a lot more suspension of disbelief than this does.

There is a moment which I’m tempted to say is early on but looking at it it’s actually a decent way into the book, but anyway, there is a moment where the narrative briefly switches to present tense. I found it mildly jarring for the first sentence or two, and had it happened earlier in the book I would probably label it as a bit random, but by this point there’s enough book behind us to know that this is done very, incredibly deliberately and certainly very effectively. Not to say that the section cannot be pulled off in past tense, but present gives it just a little extra oomph.

The characters, too, are handled very well. They all feel real and the majority of them are three dimensional. Those that aren’t are properly more flat, because why should the somewhat nerdy kid have an accurate picture of the people who like to make his life hell? Not all of the characters are inherently likable either, which is a wise touch. I don’t read a lot of YA but of what I had read there’s a bit of a trend to make the hero and his/her friends tres likable, and honestly if these characters were real I can think of one of the protag’s friends I would probably want to punch in the face, which is how it can get with friends sometimes.

I have to say I wasn’t expecting John Green to be this good. I didn’t expect him to be bad by any means, and while I’m not in love with his writing to the point that I feel compelled to run out and buy everything he’s ever written threefold I did enjoy it immensely. Would I feel the same had Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines been the one closest to me as I walked through the YA section to get to the cash register and pay for the two books I had actually intended to buy? Hard to say. Certainly I think I would still be really engrossed in the books because his writing is seriously that addictive, but I think maybe the fact that this one was a mystery also added a bit of fuel to my gunning through it like a steam engine that’s been injected with cocaine, if that bizarre simile were somehow actually possible.

Definitely worth picking it up if you haven’t already.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing Places

I know a lot of people have specific places they either deliberately set aside to do their writing or just tend to end up doing a lot of their writing in, but today I've been thinking about my own writing places and why these seem to be linked to my stories.

Over winter break I churned out a lot of work on my current WIP (largely thanks to some incredibly simple advice from a wonderful friend), and one thing I'd never really noticed was that when I was doing all of this churning I was writing in my room, sitting on the floor. When I wrote downstairs or in my living room, I could still write but I found myself writing significantly less and liking little to none of it. Thus far today I've only done some 283 words, but 219 of those came fast and very naturally. Those 219 words were written while I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom. I've done the remaining words since moving to the living room, and they feel forced and in need of swift deletion.

And this, specifically, is what set me thinking about my past writings. I started writing the Ian Goodenough stories here on this sofa, but I didn't hit the form I liked until I was in the library of my high school, last autumn. Every Goodenough story I've written since I graduated feels wrong. Not awful and in need of deletion, just not quite right either.

I started out writing the Jack Walker story at my typewriter, but found no matter how I approached it I hated it. I moved to the other end of the living room and suddenly, though, I managed to write 183 pages of story in the span of three months.

I have no idea why these relationships exist. I have no idea why my mind seems to think I can only write a certain story in a certain place. But now I'm wondering if I'm just crazy, or if other people get like this as well. Not that they set aside a separate room for writing, but that they absolutely cannot write outside of that room, no matter how hard they may try.

Am I nuts?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Link

Originally, I was planning on writing a post about platitudes that tend to come up a lot when discussing writing and why they annoy me. My brain today is like FZZZZT, though, and incapable of expressing why they annoy me beyond "they just do" so this idea will go on hold.

Then Mia pointed me in the direction of something interesting and I considered doing a post with my thoughts about this, but I feel like in my current FZZT state of mind and with some people already having their panties in a bunch, it would not end well. So perhaps another time, when my brain is more rested.

Then, I'm not sure how, I stumbled upon this. It may not be anything particularly new or revolutionary, but I like it nonetheless.

So enjoy, readers, while my brain recharges.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Left Field is the Best Field

It's one of those rare days in Scotland where the weather is not totally unpleasant. As I've been in transit to places today, when not busy talking to friends or geeking out over the fact that Ian Rankin has a twitter, I've been giving thought to conflicts in stories, partially because of real life and partially because I feel like I have basically just been piling things randomly onto my protagonist in my current story.

In fact, that's something which has been driving me crazy for a while. I know what the main conflict is, I've been sowing the seeds, but you can't just hop right to it in the first few pages. So to compensate, I've been throwing up different troubles. None of them really random, per se, and all of them are still connected to the nature of the universe. Most are even tied to the main conflict (there is one subplot in there), but I still can't escape the feeling that they're random because, well, they are. I'll be sitting typing and just decide "Let's have X suddenly happen".

Today, however, has given me a new perspective on this issue, and although I can't say I still approve of my "let's have X suddenly happen" strategy, I am much more accepting of it.

I'll avoid specifics because you neither need nor deserve to hear me whinge about my life, but this trip has had one big undercurrent of conflict, and all of it has come out of left field. Today's came especially out of left field. And if you think about it, that's the way it always seems to work. Not to say that some issues in life don't grow naturally, but it's not hard to imagine someone at a typewriter saying "let's have X suddenly happen" and lo it does.

So thanks, world, for helping me feel better about my writing strategies. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a train to catch.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In which an idea with regards to titles made a U-turn

Samuel Clemens once said "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

This is just as true of titles as it is of the narrative, and in some cases the right title may be even be more important.

The trouble is, coming up with the right words for a title can be hard. Really hard. Rarely is it like the prose, where the perfect words seem to just tumble out of the aether and onto the page.

I think part of the problem is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to titles beyond "it has to fit the narrative". You wouldn't call a book about a zombie uprising Buttercups & Kumquats unless that sheer randomness somehow worked with the narrative.

I realize, of course, the title you have now may not be the one it ends up with by the time you've gone through everything, but that doesn't make it any less important right now.

So what makes for a good title?

As noted above, a good title generally shares a theme with the story. The last Hercule Poirot novel was titled Curtain and the last Rebus novel was titled Exit Music, both fitting the "end of a series" thing rather nicely.

But sometimes the fit isn't quite so blatant. Think about the Twilight series for a moment. Now think about each of those titles in relation to their content. Each title still fits the narrative seamlessly, even if you wouldn't be able to guess it just by looking at the titles (okay, Breaking Dawn may or may not be an odd duckling).

Sometimes, though, a title doesn't match the narrative like that. Not really. Pick and choose a Harry Potter title. It's telling us what the story, or at least a key element of it, is rather blatantly. Plenty of books are named simply for characters, e.g. Eragon or Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

When I first brought this idea up in December, I was planning on doing a series of posts about titles. The more I think about it, though, the more I realise a series would just be unnecessary padding.

I can go on all day about any titles you want and find threads that link them all in some sort of pattern.

The truth is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to titles.

Except one.

A title is your narrative. Snappy, long-winded, thematic, eponymous, they all fit their contents just as perfectly as any of the words inside fits the story perfectly. Finding the right word can be difficult. It can be difficult in the narrative and it can be super extra difficult for the title.

Now, your prose isn't perfect. If it were, we wouldn't need editors. But trust in whatever part of your mind gave you that prose, and you'll have the perfect title. The title is just can extension of your prose. An extra word or eleven at the beginning of your story.

Choosing the right word is the difference between the lightning and a lightning bug.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sometimes you've just got to throw caution to the wind

We all get stuck every once in a while. It’s bound to happen in any walk of life, but especially in endeavours that require a bit more thought. Usually a little bit of downtime and a nice cup of tea sorts things out, but sometimes we just can’t dislodge ourselves so easily.

You can do what I usually do. You can sit down and have a think and let your stuck-ness depress you until kick a kitten* or two** and you feel better.

Or you can fold your arms behind your back and jump over the precipice.

Writing can be tricky business at the best of times, and we all have our own different styles. Some people like to outline every last little thing and then expand their bullets into prose. Some people are such über pantsers you can’t help but wonder just how they do anything. And some of us try to find some sort of middle ground between the two.

Sometimes, though, when you’re stuck, sticking to your usual routines will just exacerbate the situation. Sometimes you’ve just got to throw caution into the wind and hope you come through mostly unharmed.

This can mean piling into the back of an Austin Maestro with a group of your friends and going on a road trip until there just isn’t any more road to follow.

It could mean forgetting about your outline for a minute and just typing the first words that pop into your mind, no matter how bad or disjointed they may seem compared to the rest of the narrative.

Or it could mean setting aside your current project for a little while and trying something new.

Sometimes, your mind does not know what is best for you. Sometimes you’ve got to learn to ignore that little voice and trust your stomach, or the Fates, or whatever else.

It’s important to not turn off the voice, however. There’s a reason it exists, and sometimes when it tells you not to turn up at your friend’s at two in the morning to let them know you love them, it has a very good point. You just have to learn to distinguish between when the voice needs ignoring, and when it may be worth heeding.

Ultimately, a story is not yours. It is its own being. Trust it and it will deliver you to the appropriate end, no matter what your best judgments may say.

*Don’t actually kick a kitten. That’s mean.
**Don’t kick two kittens either. That’s just doubly mean.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I can't believe I got talked into this

But I did. So, here's my entry for the No Kiss Blogfest thingamajig.


Richard hated moments like these. Those times when you nearly walked into someone, apologized, and moved to the right, only for them to do the same. Only this time was worse. This time he wasn’t trying to walk around someone, he was trying to hug them, and instead of pulling in the same direction, they both ducked off to total opposite sides so that if they had brought their arms up, they only would have been met with air. Trying to walk around someone was awkward enough, but this was just embarrassing. Hugging was a simple thing, and yet here they were on trial number four, and still had not found one another. Technically Catherine was just as much at fault for the current predicament as he was, in a way, but that wasn’t registering right now. Right now ninety percent of his brain was contemplating how stupid he was, and the other ten percent was busy mulling over just how he could be so stupid.

She started for attempt number five and he hesitated, planning to watch which way she moved so this time it would come off, only for a fellow student to breeze right through the middle of them. Trying to hug in the middle of a hallway, not the best of plans. Trying to hug smack bang in front of the only doorway in and out of the classroom, that was so far beyond worthy of a dunce cap Richard didn’t have words to describe it. He let out a sort of awkward half-laugh, half-gibberish sound as he stepped just slightly forward, closer to her and freeing up enough space for people to get in and out of the room without interrupting their little two man awkward festival. She flashed a faint smile as she moved forward once again, and this time Richard forgot about waiting or, really, taking the smarter option and just hold still until she hugged him. Instead, he moved forward to hug her at precisely the same instant.

And before he fully realised it, his face was right there, not even millimetres away from hers. Forget about clichés like stopping time or time suddenly moving more slowly. It was still ticking away. The trouble was, his usually shoddy internal clock had been mended; perhaps a little too well, for he was now aware of every single second that ticked by, although he never bothered to count them. His mind was too busy focusing on what was in front of him. There, not even a moment away from his own, were her lips. He had noticed them a million times before, had noticed some of the more basic features, but his mind had never contemplated them like this before. They were thick, yes, but the right kind of thick. Not really plump, but certainly full-bodied. A rich sort of pinkish hue that almost could have been mistaken for lipstick, although she was in fact wearing none. They were lips whose sole purpose seemed to be that of kissing.

Suddenly Richard was no longer aware of his heart. It was as though a black hole had opened up behind him, sucking half his vital organs straight out and leaving his chest to cave in on itself slowly. A part of his mind winced at having just made such a probably overdone analogy, but at least at the moment, he couldn’t think of anything better. But, hang on, was he really going to? He brought eyes back up to lock with her own. It was impossible to read whatever was going on behind them, and from so close any picture painted by the face was invisible. He had liked her for a while now, almost as soon as they had met in fact, but was this really the best way to introduce those feelings? “Oh, hello Catherine, you were just trying to hug me and I totally just planted one on you because I think you’re amazing.” Real smooth there kiddo. There it was though, just right there. He could’ve had his mouth on hers before anyone even noticed him move. But would he really? It had to be getting close to time for class to begin, and what happened if the teacher came out and saw him trying to kiss her? He was already late to his own class just by walking her here. The added fun of trying to explain an attempted kiss was not needed.

He was about to pull away and just hug her when his mind froze. It certainly hadn’t been eons or even minutes since they had found themselves in this position, but it hadn’t been a split second either. Okay, okay, there was the initial freezing because holy crap this is awkward, but there was time past that. Enough time for her to back away and try to break the tension. Was her mind running through the same problems? He wanted to punch himself. What the hell was wrong with him? First he delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed on telling Catherine how he felt about her, and now here he was with the perfect opportunity to let her know in the most perfect (albeit maybe also a bit creepy) way possible, and he was just standing here. Well, no matter. He would remedy that problem in a moment. Richard tilted his neck ever-so-slightly more to the right and drew in a deep breath through his nose.

‘Frau Sellers, are you planning on joining us today?’

God. Frakking. Dammit. Catherine wrapped her arms around him quickly and then peeled away, picking up her backpack as she darted into the classroom. The old lady raised her eyebrows almost wryly as she pulled the door shut behind her, no doubt entirely aware of what she had just interrupted.