Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bad Ideas

I’ve drawn plenty of positive inspiration for my writing from books. When I was young just the fact that they ended and left me wanting more was enough to encourage me to scribble away. I’ve even found inspiration in reading the blurb on a dustjacket and imagining the plot it describes, which usually bears no resemblance to what’s inside the covers of course. As I’ve mentioned before the idea for the Pioneer Wars came out of a discussion about an apparent plot hole in someone else’s story idea. There is though a great deal of inspiration to be drawn from books that are poor or just outright awful.
As I said a really good book can be a source of inspiration, but it can just as easily become a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a piece of greatness you can never hope to even get close to matching. A bad book on the other hand encourages you to think 'I know I can do better than that and if they got published..' A bad book however can offer much more than that, after all as a writer you learn by trial and error, so why not seek to speed up your learning by examining the mistakes that others have made? Courtesy of various bad books I've learned that proof reading is not optional, that cool ideas do not equal a plot, that starting a story and hoping an ending pops up is a bad idea and that writing a book because a particular genre is 'hot' right now is seldom going to work well.

So what I'm saying is that as writer if you invested your time and money in a reading a really bad book you can console yourself with the thought that it was an educational experience. :)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


So the game 'Star Wars Battlefront 2' was due for release and video ads showing the protagonist of the single player campaign(i.e. the part with an actual story) were doing the rounds. The character is an imperial soldier and a lot of the comments I saw on YouTube were hoping that she stays with the Empire and doesn't get 'redeemed' and join the Rebellion. I had two thoughts on that. Firstly, yeah the redemption arc is kind of predictable and secondly that those people are probably going to be awfully disappointed.

The problem is that you are usually going to want your leader character to be relatable, someone the reader will like, or would like to be. If you have that character on the side of what are indisputably the bad guys then sooner or later your reader/viewer is going to get frustrated with the situation. The various ways to try and justify the character's actions don't really help. If they are under duress, secretly working against the bad guys or simply oblivious to how evil their side is then they either are actually on the good side already or the writer is just postponing their moment of redemption.

You could of course have a villain who is just unremittingly evil, with no redeeming features, problem is that gets old very quickly. The unrelenting villain can become more of a plot device than a character, only really existing to create a threat to the heroes and/or justify the 'bad' things the heroes have to do. You can tell how hard it is to write a unrelenting villain is the way that writers will eventually start trying to give them some depth and texture. A classic example is the Klingons from Star Trek. Back in the era of the original series they were nothing more than the living personification of the 'Red Menace' a largely one dimensional threat with zero context. Wind forward to the Next Generation era and they've become a warrior race with a sense of honour and a complex cultural background. It's almost inevitable its going to happen with the unrelenting villain, either they cease to be unrelenting or they're given a backstory to explain their behaviour and make them more sympathetic, they just become too one note to hold the interest of the writer, never mind the reader.

The 'redemption' character arc is here to stay, it's too powerful and too appealing to let go of, the best you can hope for is that the writer will be clever enough that you wont see it coming, or inventive enough to keep you hooked with a charming monster of a villain.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Finding the time

It's one of those things that people sometimes say, 'Oh if only I had the time I'd write'. Now leaving aside the implication that somehow time is the only requirement for creating story, characters and dialogue there is the question of how hard is it to find time to write? My own personal experience is that the mechanics of writing has gotten so much easier than it was in the days of pen and paper, or the typewriter. I personally could never get the hang of the latter, especially as I'm the sort of writer who likes to blast out a chunk of text then go back and fix any mistakes or sections that just don't flow. The arrival of the word processor was a god send, although of course at first that meant your were still tied to the desk where said word processor lived.

The advent of the laptop computer may have made it theoretically possible to write anywhere, but in practice I found them clunky and awkward. The only time they were really useful was when you were sat in a hotel room somewhere. the devices that have really freed up writing time for me are the smart phone and the tablet.

With these two devices I can write anywhere whenever I have a free moment and I can make what I write accessible on my computer via cloud storage. It just opens up whole knew opportunities with devices that you really can take wherever you go and are genuinely convenient, so my advice as far as computing goes is have a desktop for home and use a tablet or a decent sized smart phone for everywhere else.

The other thing that's changed is that you used to have to be a little bit anti-social when it comes to writing, you are going to want to spend those spare moment tapping away instead of discussing sports, movies, or what you did last weekend/are going to do this weekend. Again the smartphone and the tablet have come to the rescue here. At lunch time I often walk into the canteen at the office and find a dozen people there. The overwhelming majority of them with headphones on, glued to a screen and watching YouTube, or a video downloaded from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Now it's easy to sit there obliviously typing away, so long as you don't succumb to the blandishments of YouTube yourself.

An added bonus of the inability of people to put down their smartphones is that nobody ever asks what your doing and then follows up with an endless string of questions about what your writing. I find nothing is more likely to kill your enthusiasm for a story than having to repeatedly summarize it for people who have zero interest in your genre of choice and will inevitable utter the words 'Oh if only I had the time...'

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


And yes this one is about cover art, a topic that if you look back at the old blogs has plagued me for as long as I have been working on the 'last' draft of Secession Campaign and here is the final version of the cover:

And if you've checked the name of the file, yes there were indeed versions A through O. Now the question is was it really worth all the effort? I have to say I think it was if only because I can recall a couple of instances where a really bad cover out me off a book. Now lets be clear about what I mean by a bad cover, I mean something that looks like it was thrown together as an afterthought. The two instances I have in mind were the opposite of one another stylistically, one was very simple and one was quite busy in terms of visual elements but both were lacking in any creative effort and like it or not falling down on one part of a creative effort doesn't inspire confidence in the rest.

My cover is a mixture of 3D rendering and postwork in a paint program and given that this book is about space war something like it is almost mandatory in the genre. On the other hand if your book is a Victorian romance then maybe some text and a few 'curlicues' are all you really need so long as its clearly yours, not just some piece of clipart from the internet with some Comic Sans text on it (Comic Sans is just a no, trust me).

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Would you...???

I'm going to start this blog by proposing that you as a writer are faced with one of the three opportunities:

A - A film company is remaking movie X and wants you to write the script

B - A publisher wants you to write a new addition to popular fiction series Y

C - Famous author Z left an uncompleted work and their publisher wants you to finish it.

Each of these offers of course with the requisite promises of fame and fortune, so the question is would you take any of these offers?

So here's my take. As far as A goes the response has to be, 'which movie?' If someone is planning to remake Casablanca or Citizen Kane then it has to be a big fat no. The simple truth is that the best you can hope for with a classic is that the critics and film buffs won't call for your summary execution. On the other hand there are plenty of movies that had the potential for greatness and fell flat, that might be a challenge worth taking.

B is another 'maybe' scenario. There are series that have enough 'white space' in them that a new story could fit in easily, consider James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, new stories have been created around those characters for years and some of them are pretty good. On the other hand there are series with a tight narrative structure where a new story would be downright ridiculous, who in their right mind would take on creating a fourth chapter of 'The Lord of the Rings' for example?

C is by far the easiest to answer, basically no, nyet, non. This option is a poison chalice. The fundamental problem is that whatever you do, however brilliant you plot and dialogue and it is never going to match up with what the fans of the author imagined, you are doomed to disappoint whatever you do.

So would your answers be the same or would you bravely throw yourself into the fray?