Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Our own worlds

Recently an acquaintance of mine who lives in Israel has been posting some rather unsavory things on facebook. I don’t take sides on the issue. It just seems such a mess of violence that I can’t see either as being “right” or “wrong”, but I don’t like the violent rhetoric coming from either side of the divide. There’s been more than once the my mouse has hovered over the remove from my timeline section before relenting.
It did make me realise how easy it has become today to remove things that we are uncomfortable with from our world and how it’s even easier to surround ourselves with ideas that we agree with. If you don’t like what someone is saying then just unfriend them. You think the television is too liberal then turn on Fox news, not Liberal enough then Jon Stewart is there. Even here on blog sites we can follow people who we on some level agree with and not follow those we don’t. It’s a dangerous situation, because it means there is no more dialogue. People can sit behind their respective walls and only allow in information that agrees with their current paradigm. They can paint the other side as a demonic or idiot enemy, that just doesn’t understand the true way. In the end, it will only lead to violence and division in society.
I’m a big fan of the “I love @#$%ing science”, posts that appear on facebook. But now and again there is a post that gives insight into the fundamentalist nature of some of the posters. It seems some would like to instate some type of Scientoracy on the world – and idea that admit I feel draw towards in some ways, but know to be absurd. But once you surround yourself with only people like yourself, these ideas start to seem normal. Likewise I’m sure there is a creationist site where they sit around tutting at people who believe only in science and want to bring in a theocracy and can’t understand for a second why anyone would think otherwise. After all everyone else that they know thinks it’s a fantastic idea. It’s the same for Labour and conservatives, democrats and republicans, Israel and Palestine. Both sides can only see insane charactures of the others. I’ve met some creationist, while I find there view on that one subject to be… well... rather strange. In other ways they seemed to normal intelligent people. And that’s the danger: if we don’t have dialogue, then we start to dehumanise people and that’s lead to all kinds of trouble in the past.
While I might be wrong, it seems that there is risk of the problem being ten fold for younger generations who have never lived without the ability to wall of others beliefs.
While I don’t agree with what she’s saying, I’m going to keep my pro-Israel acquaintance on facebook and try to understand her point of view. Likewise I hope I can expand my interaction with other people outside of my normal way of thinking. It seems one of the best ways to grow.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Simpsons did it

Butters Stotch (Photo credit: Yuxuan.fishy.Wang)
I’ve been working on a little generic sci-fi story recently. It’s been fun. But I do keep worrying that I’m going to cross to far into one or the other of the major sci-fi series’ zones.
It reminded me of a good South Park episode. Where Butters keeps coming up with plans that have already been done in the Simpsons:

In my case though it’s not Simpsons did it, but Star Trek did it. It’s really hard not to be similar to any Star Trek stories. I mean there are how many episodes? Over how many series?
I’m not going to care too much about it. I’m just writing it for fun. But it is something that I do keep thinking about and try to avoid.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Running and Writing

56/365 morning run (Photo credit: kharied)
I wont have been the first person to use the running writing metaphor. Murakami, Steven King and John Irving are just a few of the heavy hitters I can think of that have made the comparison. But anyway:
I had a hard time with my running recently. I think with work, writing and whole bunch of other things going on I’m just a bit tired. To then go to the gym and push myself is tough. I’m sure I’m not alone in this problem. But the other day I had a break through: stop pushing myself.
I used to be running at around 10kph with sprints at 16 kph and it would fairly take it out of me, so much so that the next day I didn’t want to do it again. But the other day I went on the treadmill and just sauntered along at a nice 8kph with a few sprints near the end. Normally I would be quite hard on myself for being lazy like this, but this time it was so much more enjoyable and not only did the time past quicker. Moreover, the next day I didn’t have to same negative feelings about going to the gym.
I think the thing is that I’ve reached a plateau with running. Either I want to put a lot more time into it or I can just stay doing as much as I am now. Without giving something up, like work or writing or martial arts, then there’s just not enough time for me to get better. The break through I’ve had with is: that’s okay.
It might be something that’s just me or it might be everybody, but I really have a problem doing something if I don’t feel I’m getting better at it. If I can’t see the improvement then I tend to give up. I’ve had the same thing with writing. While I think the quality of my writing has got better, I’ve not seen much improvement in sales. Likewise the new job I’m in has really left me little time for writing and while I’m putting in the effort, I’m still getting less done. But do you know what, that’s okay as well.
I think for me to be happy with both running and writing I have to learn accept my limits and shouldn’t give up when I reach them. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.      

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Truth about Faeries - Free!

The Truth about Faeries is free on Amazon this weekend. (Yes it was free before but you can get it on Amazon this time.)



Someone that read Paradigms sent me an updated cover. Looks quite nice, what do you think?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Forcing it

So I tried to write, or in this case rewrite, a little today despite not having a real feeling for it. It worked out surprisingly well. It kind of reminded me of pushing myself to go a run on days when I'm not really into. At the start it was hard, but as I went on it got easier. Not as fun as an inspirational day, but it was fine. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

What to write?

I can't decide what to write. I have a few ideas, but they would be full novels and I'm not sure I committed enough to them yet to work on them. Short story wise I have a few ideas but they don't feel maturated enough yet. I don't have that “oh yeah” this is a good one feeling about them yet.

Any suggestions on what to do? Force out a story or just wait?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Creative writing. Lesson 3: Characters.

Third part in the series is now up. This week, characters. (The front image is really bad.)

Sunrise over Shonan - Review

The story is about an English teacher living in Japan who is trying to decide if he should move on with his life or not. I would describe the book as a sort of snap shot of a person's life.

Sunrise over Shonan is an excellent novel with some well thought out and deep characters. As someone who has spent a lot of time living abroad I felt that I could really identify with the main character and his problems. The story flows naturally and events are believable. There are also a few touching moments that really stand out in the book.

On the negative side I found it hard to keep up with a few of the place names and stations and it reminded me of talking to people who live in London and assume that everyone know lives outside of London is familiar with all the tube stations. Maybe it’s the same in all big cities. But this is just a minor point. And despite the problem with places, you do end up getting a good feel for the main locations in the story.
For me the strength of the book is it’s light melancholic feel that the author keeps up throughout the book and it’s in depth characters that stand out as real people living real lives.

I wouldn’t recommend it for the action orient as it’s more of a drift than story, But for people who like life snap shots (think early John Irving or E. Annie Proulx) it would be great. I’d also highly recommend it for people who are not sure what they are doing with their lives and, oddly enough, for people who like dogs.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Why do we do it?

Got a a bad review on my first book. Despite knowing that it’s just from one person who “didn’t get it”. It does bring me down quite a bit. It makes me wonder why I bother writing, or at least why I don’t just burn everything I write and keep it as a personal hobby. What is it that I’m hoping to get out of sharing the work with other people?
On one level, yes, I would like to make my hobby into a job. So cash would be nice. But I think it’s more than that. Is it an ego trip? If it is then it’s certainly not working. Why waste my time? Maybe it would be better just to focus my energy on getting drunk and staring mindlessly at the TV.

Character Creation

What makes a good character?

It’s not an easy question. My first thought is that characters have to be realistic. But considering some of the fantasy characters out there this does not seem to fit. Some of the most popular characters out there are larger than life and in many cases do the things that people wish they could do. Classic characters like Spiderman, Gandalf and Dracula are, for obvious reasons, far from realistic.

So is that what it takes to be a good character, to be larger than life? Again it doesn’t hold true. Characters like Quoyle in “The shipping news” are obviously well written, but they’re not larger than life. In many ways they seem to conform more to the first idea of being realistic.

What I really think is important for good character is that they have to be believable. They have to have three dimensions. It doesn’t matter if the character is a spell casting sorceress or a fat baker, there has to be more to their life than just those simple points. No one on this earth can be summed up in a simple stereotype. No one is not in the middle of their own story. So why should it be any different in writing?
I was watching a TV show recently called “Firefly” and the writer, Joss Whedon, seemed to understand this perfectly. There was not a character in the series without their own plans, motivations and agenda. They were not characters centred on the life of another person, but rather they were people who were centred on themselves who happened to be colliding with other people. The science fiction setting just seemed to be a back drop for the human interaction.

If I was going to make my own list of rules for character creation, “Everyone is the hero of their own stories,” would probably be top of the list. The second rule would be, “There are no ‘bad’ guys.”
So what does this mean? There are antagonists most books right? There are antagonists in “Paradigms” and “Bardo” for sure. But when you think about it, is there a single person in the world that honestly thinks they are the bad guy? Of course not. Oh they might know they are doing some things that are not right, but they’ll have their excuses. They’ll have their own paradigms. I think in psychology it’s called cognitive dissonance. People have their own ways of seeing the world, so the terrorist is doing it for his people. In his eyes he is a hero. I think once you start seeing this and start trying to understand your villains they become a whole lot more interesting. The best stories I’ve read are the ones where I’m tempted by the villain’s way of thinking.
What about the main character? Well in many ways the protagonist is the easy one for most people. They are the centre of the story and it’s easier to explore the different facets of their personality. But there is a common problem that comes up and that is the hero issue. In short, if your character is too perfect then they are boring and unrealistic.

For me there is no bigger pet hate than the perfect hero that can do everything and has no flaws. I download a sci-fi story a few months back and it was exactly that, the captain was fighter, an engineer, a diplomat, a pilot and was the best of the best at everything he did. I didn’t download the later parts.
Flaws in many ways are what make the character real. You need the dark side to show up the light. If your character can do everything, knows everything and is loved by everyone, then there’s no real point in the story. People can relate to flaws and it’s a much more satisfying story when a hero can with great effort overcome those flaws or learn to live with them.

In addition, while slightly off track. Don’t be too nice to your character in the story either. If he always succeeds in everything he does then story is dull. The failures highlight the successes and keep up the suspense.

So where do good characters come from? I once attended a little workshop on character creation when I was in Japan. The teacher was saying you should take certain things about a typical character and then change one of them to the opposite. For example, what six things do you think about a female truck driver? Most people would say ugly or fat in there and the suggestion was that you could change this to the opposite to make it more interesting. Some people seem to like this idea, for me it creates too many characters that are all a bit quirky and it feels forced. But other people find it helpful.

I would say that in my own writing, the best character ideas I get, come from watching other people. I don’t do in a stalker kind of way – at least I hope not. But I think that many of the characters I create have some basis in reality. Often they are a merging of several people into one. At other times they are based on a person I know but the characteristics of the personality are turned up or down. I think the character I have come up with that I liked most was Judas in “Paradigms”. He was based, not on a friend, but on the image that a friend of mine often tries to project (he’s really a nice guy deep down).

Like coming up with a story, I don’t think there is one magic way to deal with your characters. But one thing I would suggest is that no matter how you come up with your characters make sure you have a fairly good idea about who they are before you start writing. Sit with them and ask questions about them – some people like to do a “one hundred everyday questions” list that asks things like “What do you usually eat for breakfast,” that they run though. Some people use a diagram to map out their personality. Others try out characters in short stories first before plugging them at the main event.

Good characters are the key to writing a good novel. Get it right and much of the story will write itself.