PROPHECY – ISH

In so many stories, the way that the action is kicked into action is in response to a dusty and long since overlooked prophecy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, Bright and lots of other TV shows have an element of the tale taking place which had been foretold way back when and no matter what activities unfold, it all fits into the planning which had been laid down all those years ago.

So why do we seem to lean on the prophecy idea as being such a solid point to start from?

Someone who most people will recognise is Nostradamus. So very much about the details of his life aren’t important to this point but his writings are regularly cited as being portentous of future events. Born in 1503, he wrote about activities which he felt were going to come to pass as the years marched on and there have been a great many occasions where it’s been claimed that a particular world event was indeed one of the predictions.

Now scholars have widely disregarded the writings of Nostradamus as being terrifyingly accurate but what they do show is the almost palpable desire for people to believe that somehow we could see into the future and predict what’s going to take place.

So why do we enjoy the idea of actions now having been foretold?

In religions across the world, there are holy texts which explain what will be happening at the end times and having that knowledge can be a comfort. If you know what’s coming, there’s no way that you’re going to be surprised when it arrives. Prophecy can show that a particular group has the truth of what’s coming so when something happens that can have the prophecy overlaid on it, everyone jumps to match them up.

In stories, the prophecies are surprisingly accurate in terms of the details which draw characters together but when prophecies in the real world are tested, they’re all oddly vague, with sweeping comments which could apply to any number of things. Claims of wars being foretold years ago aren’t really that reliable. War happens all of the time and has happened all of the time. There are never specific details which could pin down the prophecy to a specific conflict.

So again, why do we like the prophecy?

As a story telling tool, a prophecy shows that every character is merely a piece being moved into the correct position under the guidance of a greater hand and that all of the choices that are being made are inexorably going to lead to a predetermined end point. The people involved were always the special one, they were just taking the steps they were always going to before their importance was revealed.

Is it as simple as we all want to believe that deep down, we’re the special one in our own story, heading to the valiant conclusion?

I think I am. We’ll just have to see what the future holds.

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VIOLENCE

Violent acts are all around us one way or another every single day. If you’ve indulged in a bit of road rage on your way to work or barged past someone who was walking too slowly, holding everyone up, that’s violence. Dragging someone into the street and giving them a damn good thrashing with a baseball bat is also violence. Threatening someone is also violence.

All in all, it’s everywhere.

I’m writing book three of The Circle series at the moment and like the others, there will be conflict between different people and creatures which means I’m going to have to include some violence. So why is it that violence, which can cause so very many negatives, is so popular in our fiction?

We see every day on the news, a seemingly unending supply of examples of brutality from all over the globe. Acts of terrorism, murders, wars, and any other act of violence that you could possibly care to dream up yet we all love stories which include just those very acts. Now it would be too easy just to say that as a people, we’re all becoming desensitized to violence because we see it so often that when it pops up in a book or on TV we just see it as being part and parcel of life, but for e that seems too simple.

Computer games and films are regularly blamed when a violent act is perpetrated as being what pushed a person over the edge. The music of Marilyn Manson has been pointed at as a driving force behind violent behaviour from someone who listened to it.

I can’t recall a time where a book was held up as an example of driving someone to violence.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned way back when amid a moral panic regarding it’s contents and we’re all no doubt familiar with the phenomenon that is 50 Shades. Books of an erotic nature like these immediately make people angry but all manner of depictions of violence are held in the pages of a library so anyone can dive in and swim around.

After the 50 Shades book was released, there was an increase in the number of injuries of a sexual nature which were reported to hospitals as people gave the practices in the pages a go without doing all of the research they needed to. Yet there seems to be no qualms about descriptions of violence in other books. Granted, we’re unlikely to see a Val McDermid book be released and than have thousands of people set off on macabre killing sprees but why is it that there’s never the clamour for the books with violence in them to be sanctioned?

Now I recognise that 50 Shades books are held up as examples of normalising violence against women and the dynamics of the relationship in the novels is far from healthy, but people found it a way to explore their own sexuality and decided to give some things a go, potentially unwisely, which resulted in the injuries.

We see books where serial killers conduct almost unspeakably brutal actions as the hero chases after them. I’ve read books which included people being tied up in the mouth of an underground tunnel like a spider at the centre of a web and left to be killed by the arrival of the train. Val McDermid and a description of a torture device involving a naked man, a chair with no seat and a razor and hook covered and electrified cone is not something that I would ever wish to see come to pass in the real world and the entire works of Clive Barker seem to speak for themselves yet that violence doesn’t appear everywhere after the release.

Violence is a great tool in story telling. Violence can provide a level of connection that the reader may not have without it. We recognise what it would feel like to experience the violence so can empathise. We can also see just how far a character may have been pushed if they are willing to commit an act of violence. We know that we would never do something like that but also, exactly just how bad things must be if they’d reached that point of striking out.

But violence is not a thing of it’s own. Violence doesn’t exist separate from anything else just randomly doing it’s thing for no reason. Violence is the tool of a stimulus. Control of people can be maintained by acts or threats of violence. Emotion bring violence to the fore. Anger spilling out, envy and also sadness. People are driven to violence because of their situations and we’ve got to remember that it isn’t always something which should be squashed. Violently breaking free of oppression, self defence. These things mean that we need to recognise that violence isn’t the end point.

The works of Shakespeare and so very many religious books all have examples of the kind of brutality that would make your toes curl yet we encourage our young people to explore these books when they’re young as positives.

I’ll continue to use violence in what I write when the story requires I do. Just throwing it in there because you’re feeling bored won’t add to the story and could just look sensationalist. When my characters are violent, they have to be because of the story I’m putting together. I won’t have them being sadistic just because. There’s always a cause to violence and very often, the journey that matters is finding out what that cause is.

NEW YEAR, NEW ………………..

What does 2018 have in store for us?

No-one knows for sure but we all have a super power in this regard. Buried inside all of us is a power which holds the possibility of moulding and shaping the world to our desires.

We don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive anything or be hit by a weird space ray to bring this power to the surface but it can often take some kind of external stimulus.

2017 was nuggets of good forced to orbit a brutal black core of despair but the new year has allowed me to take stock and recognise that my super power was being brought to the surface.

I see in myself, both the need but also the power, to shape my reality in the way I want. I’m going to grip this year and make changes so I can get to where I need to be. I’m still feeling the pain of 2017 and I’m sure that the after taste of what happened will last a great many years but I’m going to start punching back.

The world is coming for all of us in one way or another and the fact that the fight approaches is something none of us can avoid. What we can do though, is make sure that we reach into our own reservoir of superpower, draw together our defences and just meet the onslaught head on.

Let’s all become our very own superheroes in 2018 and become the fully active force that our lives deserve. It’s never a time to take a backward step so let’s all do all we can to be as good as we can be and never let the monster of life beat us down.

Onwards one and all.

FAME

Do you want to be famous?

It seems to be ‘the’ thing that everyone wants at the moment.

There have been studies done which show that the previous desires of astronaut and the like have been replaced with the hope of attaining fame.

It’s not that people didn’t want to be famous back in the day, rather they wanted to be a footballer or an actor first and the fame that came along was just something that was part and parcel of the original situation.

But the world is changed.

Now, rather than fame being a by-product of the hoped for role, it has moved ahead and has become the target. The desire seems to have morphed to become famous and then find a way to maintain it, doing anything and everything possible.

Now the reason I began thinking about fame came as I reviewed my position as an author.

When I started on my writing journey, all I ever had in mind was getting the story finished and releasing it into the world. I didn’t even consider what would happen after I had the book published and the idea of becoming famous never crossed my mind.

Not that I’m famous now, but my name is on something for sale on Amazon.

So does that mean that fame is something which only happens after a certain amount of name recognition? Will I have to have sold a particular number of books to be classed as famous? Have a set number of page likes on Facebook? (By the way, if you haven’t liked the page already, you’re missing out on all kinds of fun).

If I walk down the street and am recognised by people as the author of The Circle series, does that mean that fame is mine? Granted, author would never really be considered as the fast track to fame but you never know.

Fame is something that is so very odd. The desire to be recognised, to have people know who you are. To lay it out like that, it seems a pretty peculiar thing to be striving for as the main goal. Fame is a by product of doing something else, something which brings the attention to you rather than just having the attention and going from there. Could it just mean that there is a greater desire for people to feel that they’re surrounded by others who are interested in what they say or do?

Whatever the reasons, fame is something that has the chance to elevate or destroy and will always be something which comes along with an ever changing list of professions and situations. I don’t ever spend swathes of time thinking about fame. I just want to write books and go from there.

SO MANY LEVELS?

When I was much younger than I am today, it was not really unusual for me to be found watching kids TV shows of any and all genres and flavours. Now the fact that I did shouldn’t be that much of a shock as I was, indeed, a child, but a lesser known fact of kids TV was brought home now that I am an uncle.

Kids shows are clearly designed to appeal to the children but very often, an effort has been made by the production teams to add something just for the adults.

Now these added extras aren’t just slapped in there with a sweary addition or a blast of violence that wasn’t expected, rather they find themselves disguised as harmless little one liners, or innocent images which the little ‘un’s can all laugh along with but only the grown ups really get. Shrek’s comment about Lord Farquad’s castle being so large as a way of compensating for something, wink, wink.

And that can’t be an easy thing to manage.

Can you imagine trying to hide ‘naughtiness’ in plain site? Getting a potentially inappropriate comment or idea under the noses of the audience?

Layers of the story have to add to the whole. They have to be seamlessly part of the tale so as not to draw any unwanted attention but still add to the overall of what’s going on. If you notice them, then you get the added glow of sniggering at the joke but without the knowledge then you can still get value from what’s going on.

All stories have a multitude of layers which are stitched together to create the symphony of what the tale is and in the same way an orchestra as a whole delivers the complete performance, should you notice the specific work of one instrument over the others you’re treated to a more pinpoint fact of the collection.

Be it innuendos, or layered sub-text, stories have more than just the tale buried within the words. There are subtle waves and patterns woven through every story as the writer puts nuance and ‘meat’ onto the bones of what’s going on. Always make sure you notice all of the little bits and pieces that fit together to create the whole.

Just to highlight the way an amazing joke can be tossed into the wider story, thanks to Gheorghe Lazarof on You Tube, I present to you a first class joke that will always make me laugh from the cartoon Animaniacs. Please take a look and believe me, it’s well worth a look.

UNDERDOG

It seems a strange thing that the underdog in any situation should be so readily supported.

This weekend saw the FA Cup on the telly box and all of the promo pieces seemed to focus on the examples of the little guy standing up and giving the big guy a bloody nose. And these aren’t the only examples of the phenomenon.

Think of every book or film which deals with a valiant protagonist taking on, and ultimately overcoming, an oppressive regime and the underdog is front and centre. Luke Skywalker, Winston Smith, Offred, Tron. These are all people who are mere cogs in the great machine that is the society they exist within yet they strike out against that society, against the clear injustice they see all around them, and in their different stories, are able to at the very least slap out at the oppressors, through to the complete overthrow of a regime.

This isn’t a new idea either.

The rebel uprising of Spartacus and his band of freed slaves has been told over and over again including being immortalised as both film and TV show and that, not only took place, but happened over two thousand years ago and most have heard about the story of David versus Goliath.

So why do we all seem to want to cheer on the little guy?

Are we all just a contrary lot who want to see the favourite get tripped up? Is it that we can’t accept the truth, like Jim Carrey? Or is it something else?

Now in sporting terms, fans will back their team when all the analysis shows they have no chance because it’s their team. It’s a tribal identity which goes far beyond big ‘un v little ‘un, but for the neutrals, our heads understand that on side is the heavy favourites but we just cling to the ‘what if’. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the result will end up going the way you’d expect but on the very rare occasion, that one time, the system is turned on it’s head and the giant killing action is completed.

In storytelling, we love the idea that just a single voice, from the bottom of the power pyramid, can wield enough power to topple the mightiest dictator because, maybe, just maybe, should we have to, we could do the same. We want to see ourselves as the principled hero who’s going to stand up for what they believe in despite the overwhelming odds stacked against us. This doesn’t have to mean that we all want to be lightsaber twirling Jedi or that we all harbour desires to grow up to be an almost messianic saviour character in a broken world of the future, rather it can signify that deep down, we all recognise the need for that level of principle in a world which often punishes those ideals.

Who’s seen actions at school or work which have seen the relative bad guy win?

We all face choices to speak out or stay quiet every day and we all know what we should be saying on every occasion. But looking around the world and through history, it’s far too easy to pinpoint examples where speaking out would result in a swift and brutal response. There have been regimes which have stamped on even the slightest hint of dissent and ‘wrongthink’ could be punishable by death yet in these environments there are still the few who are willing to stand up for what they believe.

It’s our collective desires to be the good guy, the one doing the right thing that is so important. We see characters standing up for what’s right and that’s what we all want to see in ourselves, despite the risks. The bravery to stand up against a much stronger foe despite the imbalance of power.

Long live the underdog.

GIVE AND TAKE

When I write all of the various stories I do, I have to put serious thought into what the characters are capable of. Now in terms of the more fantastical stories, that can be almost anything, including magical powers, super human abilities or the like, but it’s also true for the more ‘real’ stories. Everyone has their particular skill set, the things that they’re good at for the story I try to put together.

Now very often, the narrative for stories comes from the hero being able to then overcome their greatest weakness, Superman reacting to Kryptonite. But it doesn’t stop there. Also, we often see the antagonist almost be the complete opposite of the protagonist in terms of strengths and weaknesses, The M.Knight Shyamalan film Unbreakable has just that dichotomy between the characters of Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. Then consider Drax the Destroyer from the Marvel Universe, aside from the relatively staple fare of loss of family and sworn vengeance, he’s also having to overcome his literal way of interpreting things. Great warrior but having a conversation after the battle, now that’s the real challenge.

Now, that deals with the more fantastical tales dealing in the wildly fictional but it’s something we have to imagine all of the time in each and every character we write.

The real world is filled with all manner of life and those lifeforms have evolved to fill the niche that they exist within. Watching Blue Planet II recently, I’ve been treated to amazing views of what’s going on under the surface of the planets water systems and there have been so many intriguing details about what’s down there.

Some creatures have the ability to change colour but while many use it as a defensive measure to help them bled into the background so potential predators pass them by, others use it as a form of hypnotic hunting weapon. The same ability, different uses.

Great White Sharks are coloured a very specific way, darker upper and lighter under side. This allows them to match the environment if viewed from either above or below. They are supreme hunters and are rightly feared but that doesn’t mean they are universal. They have weaknesses. Outside of their usual environment, aside from the whole ‘fish out of water’ thing, as they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone, their body weight would crush them. Even in the water, the systems they have evolved to detect the electrical fields around other sea life can be turned back against them. It’s been said before, that to survive a shark attack, punch it on the nose. That’s where the delicate apparatus are found and they are vulnerable.

Each character I write, magical, superpowered or ‘vanilla’ has an individual set of characteristics. I want everyone to have that level of authenticity so the reader can recognise humanity and indeed, reality, in who the people are.

No-one can do everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to make sure that we are all working together so we can all intersect in terms of our skills so we can all get on. When we read characters we need to have an understanding that they, whoever they are, also have issues they struggle with. They have internal conflicts which impact them and although we’re unlikely to be seeing the long term depiction of those issues, the fact that they exist can make the characters just a little more likable.