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.

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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.

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.

MEN TO HELP

As most of you know, it was International Men’s Day over the weekend. Much like the female equivalent earlier in the year, it is there as a platform to highlight those specific issues that are weighing heavily on the genders. Suicide rates, education, work, all these things are up for discussion and I read articles that delved into the topics with gusto.

Now this post isn’t going to be a piece about anything too controversial but I heard the song ‘Crybaby’ by Paloma Faith during the day which she herself has said is an attempt to highlight the dangers of ‘toxic masculinity’ and that men don’t have to always maintain the stiff upper lip. Now I have a few issues with some details of the song and how it goes about what it’s trying to point out but the central message of asking for help is crucial.

It’s a vital point to highlight that suicide is, certainly not a men only issue, but that there has been shown to be a much higher proportion of the suicide stats being filled by men. Not being a burden is regularly highlighted as a driving force for the choice to end a life so everyone has to recognise that there are ALWAYS options out there when you need help and that no-one with that option in mind will EVER be a burden, male or female, young or old.

It’s too easy to see men as the brutish oafs we are so often portrayed as and just think that we have the collective emotional intelligence of a house brick but that does us all an injustice. It can become easy to write off the films we watch, the programs we watch and the books we read, as being all about explosions and guns and pretty much nothing else but I’d like to present a couple of examples where it shows just a little more.

I don’t think that anyone would suggest that ‘Predator’ is in the same bracket as ‘Citizen Kane’ but I think it shows a powerful depiction of friendship between two men. Mac and Blaine are trained killers and big guns and explosions and chewing tobacco and ‘I ain’t got time to bleed’ etc. but we have the chance to recognise that they discuss the importance of compartmentalizing their emotions when in action for the sake of their own mental health. We have the view of one mourning the other, with the way Mac won’t let anyone else prepare his friends body for transportation or the way that he admits to his commanding officer Dutch, Arnie himself, that ‘He was my friend.’ Dutch had told Mac that Blaine was a good soldier preceding this line and it’s not one that we hear given to anyone else as they are picked off. Indeed, Blaine isn’t the first of the group to perish yet he is singled out for praise to a colleague. There is a recognition that there is great pain being felt by one of their number and Arnie’s character is acknowledging that pain with the comment about Blaine’s prowess. Mac then responds in kind with the muted reply which may as well have been his roaring in tears as he beat the ground and cursed the gods for his loss. That was all that was needed to get the point across.

Clip uploaded from YouTube user Jordan Mac.

Lethal Weapon, beyond the gun fire and fighting, is how one man with fears about his value as he ages (I’m too old for this shit) works with a partner with serious unresolved grief and mental health issues, to give each other the stability and help that they are so badly calling out for. Riggs had explained the details to Murtaugh, of what he was going through and he does attempt suicide in front of his friend, Murtaugh being the one to intervene at the very last second. Riggs, in the instant of explaining the detail of his pain, is reaching out for help and from there, disaster is averted. Murtaugh’s friend in the first film, the father of the girl who falls to her death at the start of the film, admits that he made mistakes but only after the heroes have identified the connections. His death, immediately after the revelation that he could have gone to Roger much earlier, stands symbolically to show that not asking for help from the people around you can lead you to a darker conclusion. Indeed, the final battle is concluded only when Riggs and Murtaugh fire together to kill the bad guy, a problem overcome by two people together.

Storytelling can be used for so many things. Tales of the grandest scale can unfold in any and all directions but very often, the smallest actions between two people, the littlest thing said by one person to another, can prove to be of the most vital importance.

Everyone asks for help in their own way, everyone feels what they feel in a very personal fashion. What we all need to do is make sure that we keep our eyes open for all of the ways those calls for help could come, especially the one’s that don’t even look like calls for help.

GOOD GUY/BAD GUY

Have you seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog?

I’m not going to dive into the pro’s and cons of the musical here, rather I’ve been thinking about the good guy/bad guy dichotomy.

In the musical, Dr. Horrible is the focus of the story as he goes about his life, trying to gain entry into a very prestigious group despite the actions of someone who seems to be out to just thwart all he does. Add to this his attempts to woo the beautiful woman, and all of a sudden, you’ve found yourself in any number of stories which have done the rounds before.

The difference now though is Dr. Horrible is actually a super villain.

His struggles against his nemesis, Captain Hammer, are familiar super hero / super villain fare but this time we’re looking from the other side of the equation. Our antagonist isn’t the one trying to protect the city, it’s the one trying to destroy it.

It’s easy to see the villain in whatever we read or watch as being just ‘the bad guy’ who has to be overcome, but what if there’s more to the choices that are being made?

Each and every one of us is the result of all of the choices we’ve made in life so why shouldn’t everyone else be?

When you meet people in the real world, we all make decisions about what we see and those people make the same choices when they meet us. The question then comes, if we have negative feelings and opinions about someone, and they fit into the a bracket of becoming a fay to day ‘bad guy’, isn’t it possible that they have the same thoughts about us?

In the film Falling Down, Michael Douglas is the focus of the story and we get to see the tortured thoughts he’s been experiencing, yet if the focus had been on Robert Duvall, Michael Douglas easily becomes the almost pantomime villain.

Everyone is the hero in their own story but that will also mean that everyone also has the chance to be the villain in someone else’s.

Thinking that someone is just the one dimensional monster is simple. It let’s us see them as nothing more than the problem, a crisis causer that’s out to do anything and everything they can to cause issues. What has to happen, is to look wider, to look deeper at what’s taking place. The moustache twirling villain has it’s place but making sure to consider that everyone has their own story taking place at the same time as yours can only help all of us tick along.

Besides, many layered characters just make things more fun!