EASY COME, EASY GO

Have you ever noticed that superheroes, hell, all of us, can very often be recognised not by the range of powers or skills that the have, but by the weaknesses.

It’s very easy to create a character who has all manner of abilities. Superman can fly, can shoot laser beams from his eyes, has super strength, can freeze water with his breath and is bulletproof. Now the hero’s been put together, the way to actually create the tension, the story, is to give them a weakness or two.

If you take away the threat of kryptonite, Superman is pretty much able to squash anything that crosses his path so should anyone try it, none of us would be worried that he’d be challenged. Superman is then the most boring hero going because nothing is going to get close to him so all the stories that could be written will eventually just be the same walk to the ultimate conclusion of the vanquishing of the enemy.

I’m writing at the moment on the third book in The Circle series and one of the things I’ve always got to keep in mind, is that a Dragon is a pretty powerful creature. A Dragon could do some real damage and on top of that, within the structure of the narrative, they sit very much at the top of the food chain.

So how do you make the stories compelling?

Make sure that the adversaries that pop up are able to exploit a weakness or somehow get around the strengths that the Dragon has.

Superman was always battling with Lex Luthor who made the best use of his vast intellect to become a very real threat to the man of steel. In the same way, my Dragon has to face off against challenges that can truly cause problems. The Circle of Fire had a similar creature as the Dragon but The Circle of Duty had a slightly different antagonist meaning the skill set went almost completely against what you’d expect.

That means that the threat comes straight back in and all the way through the story, there’s going to be the risk of the hero losing the fight.

Without that weakness, without taking away the huge power that could be brought to bear, or at least making it more and more difficult, the threat level vanishes. How the hero then deals with the problem, deals with the losses, define what sort of character we’re dealing with.

We all have to deal with our own weaknesses and issues and very often, how we react in the face of those issues is what defines us. In the face of adversity, we can find out what sort of individual we are. We all can. Without those weaknesses to overcome, we’re just left with no obstacles to traverse and life is just moving onwards without any feeling of accomplishment. We’d never be tested.

All in all, we need to know that we can overcome the horror.

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OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

We’ve been watching the last season of The X-Files recently and all the great conspiracy theories about aliens and monsters and government plots swirled all around us.

Now The X-Files is a very well known commodity and the drive of Fox Mulder to see little green men hiding behind any and all activities that may cross his path is something which is so very well known that it’s easily lampooned in other media, or used as a reference to describe the tin foil hat wearers.

But all of that isn’t what my mind went towards this time. This time, I focussed on Scully.

Before we start, get your minds out of the gutter. When I say ‘focussed on Scully’, I was referring to the position she holds within the X-Files world, that of rationality.

Gillian Anderson’s character was originally given the assignment with ‘Spooky’ Mulder as a way of debunking and discrediting his work by applying the withering stare of logic to everything he said. He says that aliens are manipulating the lottery numbers. She responds with the rational questions of how and why. He says it clearly must be a shadowy cabal pulling the strings of all of humanity. She pulls his ideas apart.

So The X-Files has every story falling into the more outlandish side of the equation but at each step, there has to be an attempt to explain it away. All of the weirdness that pops up all of the time has to be run through the ringer of science and common sense before it’s taken on as being the truth.

Which I’ve been finding a very valuable process to explore for not only my planning and execution of my writing but when looking at everything in the real world.

When I put together stories, and certainly as I’m working on a larger, wider mythology for the Circle series, I have to make sure that there is logic and the steps that are taken aren’t just ‘maguffins’. Now I recognise that magic and monsters aren’t the most logical of topics but as long as the world I’m writing has it’s own consistent logical rules, it’s how the reader can climb over the more outlandish ideas.

Now as I’m writing this, I’ve got YouTube playing some background music to keep me plonking along but one of the other videos it offered up when I logged in was a selection of Star Trek clips. The clip from Undiscovered Country struck a chord as they overtly used the very logic process to advance the story.

Klingon ships can’t fire when they’re cloaked. That was the thing that everyone knew and the fact had been a very well used nugget of information in building the continuing universe. But in Star Trek VI, there was one that could. Throughout the film, all of the attempts to understand what had taken place and how such an event could have been perpetrated so often slammed up against the logic wall that said such a ship didn’t exist. That meant the crew had to continue to explore the options, ruling out scenario after scenario until the very logic they were using needed to be examined. Were all the variables in the equation correct? Had they overlooked anything? Could they be missing something?

The application of logic, itself a vital part of Star Trek lore, and the use of scepticism isn’t just something that has to be circumvented in stories to drag those who don’t believe towards the unlikely truth. Applying a level of critical thinking to situations, story telling or the real world, can make sure that the way you look at the things being presented isn’t being coloured by wishful thinking or built on dodgy foundations. When we read stories on line, or watch TV, apply that level of thought to examine what we’re seeing. Are we being told the truth? Is the story being slanted? What are we really seeing? Just don’t end up marching down the super suspicious mind set road.

It’ll be tin hats for everyone and we’re back to the beginning.

 

THE LAW

In all of the story ideas that I’ve had over the last few months, there’s been a core of importance around the relationship of the people and the law. From dystopian futures and a rag tag uprising through to the police racing against time to prevent a catastrophe, how the population react to the authority figures and then, how that relationship can permeate every part of life.

What do you feel about the Police?

I suppose it’d depend on a great many things but in there will have to be what kind of interactions you’ve had with them.

So what interactions have you had with them?

If the only time you’ve ever had the chance to deal face to face with the Police was a passing nod at a village fete, you’re going to have a very different opinion than someone who’s a career criminal who keeps getting arrested. In each case, we would be built by the experiences and that’s the same as pretty much everything, but the next place to look is the Police themselves.

No matter the reasons you have to deal with the law, those people of the thin blue line have a very important role to fill in society. Have you ever thought about the kinds of things that members of the Police force have to deal with?

If you’ve been broken into, the Police will be there to investigate and not only catch the person responsible but also maybe retrieve your lost belongings. If you break the law, then they’re coming for you. But also, if you’re attacked and they’re the first on the scene, they’ll care for you, they’ll comfort you should they have to deliver the horrific news that a loved one has been killed.

The Police put themselves in harms way on a normal day at work. Drunken fights, abuse, broken bodies and the possibility of being the target of violence themselves aren’t the sort of job ‘perks’ that most of us would put up with but the men and women of the Police accept that they have to deal with these things and more yet still head off to work.

So we should be cheering for the law every day?

Well, maybe not.

There have been a great many examples of members of the Police force not quite reaching the high standards we expect of them. Indeed, in storytelling, the idea of the ‘dirty cop’ is startlingly common and there will always be examples in all walks of life of people who just think abhorrent things so finding some in the Police shouldn’t be a shock. But whereas in other jobs, these people are now gifted with a remarkable amount of power to explore those ideas. Just a tiny step and the power is being used far outside the rules.

I’m writing stories where there is a strong focus on what a ruling force can do. In The Circle books, the main character is placed within a very strict framework of rules but that doesn’t mean that that framework can simply be viewed as existing for the good of everyone with no possible dark side. Recognising that there may be some darkness within the very force that is there to protect us all and maintain the boundaries of our society allows for a much more expressive and nuanced collection of prose. If the good guy can go bad, what does that mean for the rest of us?

The law is needed and as an extension of the law, the Police are a vital part of how our societies are stitched together but like all those superheroes out there, they have the great responsibility that comes with the power. The Police can far too easily become the clenched fist of the ruling power and destroy any and all dissenting voices but without them, we all find ourselves living in the film The Purge.

 

THERE ALL ALONG

There I was, trundling along with my writing on the next novel, The Circle of Stars, and from out of the blue, came the big slap in the face.

When I write, I have a plan of sorts about what’s going to be happening but I always make sure to leave enough free room that I can amend and nudge the story as I go, depending on what the story does as I move along. I’ve referred to it as almost Bltzkrieg writing, where I blast off to a far off point I the story and then go back to the start and fill in details as I then repeated the journey.

But very often, a central detail of what I need to try and fold into and then build the story around, is missing for quite some time.

So how the hell do I write a coherent book if I don’t have the so-called keystone?

I just get the ball rolling and see how I get along, having enough of a plan where I need to go and the story, and indeed all of the central themes, spiral out of what comes to the surface.

I’ve often wondered if my ‘process’ is anything other than the weak minded way of bungling a story together or indeed, if it’s just the best way for me to be able to sort all of the ideas I have into some kind of order. I know when I start out, the place the story needs to eventually end up, but surely over planning to the Nth degree will drain all of the colour out of the words, leaving behind detailed descriptions but possibly lacking a degree of organic growth. Making sure you have all of the room to breathe when writing means that you’ll have space to include something you may have had in the back of your mind but which didn’t come to the surface until long into the process.

I think I’ve proved to myself that I’ve known what I needed to be saying at the core of the latest book for quite some time. I look back over the notes I’d made, re-examined the characters and what they need to be doing and even looked on the short story, Crossing the Line, which I published in Answers from the Darkness, with a new eye.

My message was always there.

I’d always known what was happening, it was just that I hadn’t told myself. Maybe the timing wasn’t right.

Certainly feels right now though.

A GOOD PAINT JOB

Have you heard the phrase ‘A picture paints a thousand words’?

As an author with zero ability with a paint brush, it could be really simple to think that I’m on the wrong side of that equation but as with so many things in life, there’s always layers to everything we consider.

How many of us have bought flat pack furniture from IKEA or the like and been confronted with the wonder that is the instruction booklet? A collection of pages that are meant to provide directions through the maze of construction to the promised land of a securely put together unit but at some point, we’ve all come across instructions which seemed to have been designed to do more harm than good.

Could you imagine trying to put together a bookcase you’ve never seen before with nothing but words in the ‘How to’ guide?

It wouldn’t take long before you’d have clumps of your hair in your fists and a selection of the bits you were working with scattered all over the room. Trying to paint that picture with just the words could be a bit of a toughie. But so could the reverse.

Words and pictures have their powers and both can be used to explain and entertain. A picture paints a thousand words but I can paint a picture with a thousand words. It’s just a matter of time.

I’ve taken inspiration from single pictures to add to the narrative I’m working on and when I look at all manner of images I try to imagine all of the back story that may come with them. The giant dragon image, the creature wrapped around the burning castle as it roars out at the night sky, looks great on its own but just think about all of the story that could be spilling out with the image.

Pictures of all kinds can make our minds fire. The right blend of words can do the same. The artist and the author have to plan and execute their work to create the piece they aim for but the person admiring that work could see the written word as being more work to unravel. A picture can paint the words more quickly but in both art forms, the more you look, the more you read, the more time you take, the meaning is spread out much more clearly, showing level after level of new detail.

Trouble is, I can’t draw for the life of me.

THE DAY AFTER

You know that come down you get after a great convention weekend? I’ve got that.

We had a great time and all the talk about dragons and all things science fiction and fantasy really managed to pour a huge amount of fuel into my mental tanks.

How often do we all just soak in all the good things we need from a particular event? A convention, a family gathering, a long awaited holiday. Our batteries get low and an event can suddenly re-charge what we’d run out of.

I published a new book of short stories recently so it’s understandable that some of my ‘well’ had been depleted but thanks to this weekend I’m full to the brim again. I’ve been feeling pretty good about the latest stretch of my writing journey so the energy from this weekend really has done the business.

New jacket and waist coat even came out to play as can be seen in the picture of me in the selection below.

I even managed to come up with a new idea for a YA novel. It came to me in a dream and I had a mad scramble to get the notes written down while they were still fresh in my mind.

Looks like 2018 is filling up with ideas nicely.

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COMING TOGETHER

There I was, writing away on the next book, concentrating hard to get the words on the page while I had the radio playing in the background, and an ad came on for the stations annual five hundred word short story competition for youngsters. I was working on a short story myself so it was good to hear the drive to get others going in the field.

What Radio 2 did in the promo was to expand what you could get out of it.

Rather than simply being a relative call to arms, that particular promo also gave a small tip. It was done because they had webchats and other resources available on the website so was just an example of what else the kids taking part could use to deliver the best possible story they could.

But that little nugget was awesome.

As a way of getting going, think about putting two things together that wouldn’t normally go together. If you’re struggling to find a way of starting out, look at the way that you can subvert the normal.

It was so basic yet summed up everything that I’ve been trying to do in so much of my writings. It had boiled down my writing process to a single sentence.

In my first novel, The Circle of Fire, the central idea was doing just that. The big scary monster was the good guy. The main character was created to be a representation of a stereotype of the gym going man so I could turn it on it’s head as the series went on. My short stories include ideas around what we all think, and how we interpret words and I’ve tried to look at things in a very different way.

Don’t we like the idea of turning things on their heads?

Don’t we like the idea of what we’re all used to seeing being shown to be wrong?

Rooting for the little team versus the huge club. The David versus Goliath.

Excitement comes from looking outside the norm and by slamming things together that shouldn’t be together under normal circumstances. It can allow all manner of topics to be explored. The film Enemy Mine has the story based around a human and an alien being stranded on a planet. They’re sworn enemies and have been fighting in space prior to their crashing. Everything grows from there. The Odd Couple indeed.

Then think of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet again, we see the strange bed fellows. The court room, the home of justice and all things honest is shown to be a terrifying place if you come from the wrong population. Truth, that which we all know that we have to maintain, becomes an irrelevance before the glare of twisted ideology.

All kinds of stories are out there to prompt thought and to entertain, and very often, by bringing things together that shouldn’t normally interact, you can uncover some interesting stuff.

Now I’m off to write a story about an HR performance review of someone on the Death Star.