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!

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NORTH OR SOUTH?

It does seem that in the world at the moment that there is a growth of ideas and personalities which are polarising to the extreme. It’s not that this as an idea is totally new, think of the way Marmite is advertised and you can see that looking at things as an either or is nothing new but day by day I see the dichotomy being the growing way to go.

I see so many more examples of there being an either or choice rather than there be any kind of nuance. On TV, in the press and in conversations in the real world, there seems to be an increase of ‘with me or against me’. It seems that we’re seeing worldwide, the polarising of opinion to either end of the spectrums and this seems to be very clearly shown thanks to the hurricane of with or against that is Donald Trump.

Now rather than just make comment of the clear issues that exist in the way he’s going about things, instead I’m highlighting the need for the shades of grey in the choices we make and our ability to have independent thoughts on every topic.

The whole world has been looking on over the last few weeks as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have been having something of  spat over the size and power of their various, well, everythings, but both exist in worlds where they expect everyone around them to agree with everything they say. The world has been treated to the show of two men who expect, indeed, demand that their opinion is correct and should anyone disagree, well, don’t even bother. Now imagine we all watch on as these two rattle their sabres and shout about their ideas being correct and then all of a sudden, Kim Jong-un , out of nowhere, makes a well reasoned and thoughtfully responsible point about the wider political situation throughout all of Asia. He may be seen in a negative light but what happens if all those people who had been berating him suddenly found themselves having to admit they agree. What very often happens is an attempt to belittle everything around him, highlighting any and all mistakes and make everyone focus on the negative. The positive idea gets buried because he can’t really mean it. Arguing facts is one thing but people so often equate their opinions with facts.

But it’s not just the highest national leaders who indulge. Very often I’ve seen that if there’s any disagreement at all, it can quickly descend into the ‘with or against’. Any talk of differing opinions are seen as a personal attack and therefore must be squashed. Think about the world you inhabit and think if there has been an example which comes to mind. There may not be a massive one but they’ll be more common than you may expect.

Now disagreements are a good thing when they’re managed correctly. Wars have a habit of starting following disagreements but only because there wasn’t a coming together and shared compromise. At no point am I trying to extol the virtues of either of the two political leaders or their ideas, rather it’s an attempt to examine just how we all look at ideas and how we deal with disagreements.

For all of us, that ability to move our opinions and react to different ideas in a positive way is what can make sure that we all grow in a positive way. Life is so very much more than just black and white.

I’ve recently been working on a collection of short stories, ready for another collection book to be released some time next year, and I’ve been continuing my attempts to always look at things in as many new ways as I can. I’m doing my best to always add some white to my black and black to white when creating characters as it’s that grey that can make us all more interesting.

Just sticking to the dichotomy of one end of the scale or the other will mean that we miss out on so many great ideas just because we didn’t want to move towards the centre.

WARM AND FUZZY

It’s a description of the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re in an environment or surrounded by people, that give you the ultimate sensation of welcome and comfort.

It’s that all embracing hug that just means that everything in the world for that moment, is absolutely perfect. We know that all things are good. There’s nothing at all that could go on to pull down that comfy feeling and how beautifully enveloped you feel at that very instant is surely what we’re all striving for on any given day.

I was at London Film and Comic Con recently and was lucky enough to have that warm and fuzzy feeling all weekend. I was at the table chatting to anyone and everyone about my books but also about everything and anything else. Aside from the practicalities of the trader life and then having a flat tyre on the journey home, being able to just immerse yourself into the world you enjoy, and with people who share the same topics is awesome.

This weekend just gone I attended a good friend’s wedding and got to see a few people that I haven’t seen in years, back in the town that I grew up in. I reached out and wrapped myself up in the same warm fuzzy feeling and just wallowed. It wasn’t that I was pining for a return to where I grew up or that I want to leave behind where I live now, it’s rather that I was able to reminisce in a fully immersive way. All of the great times that I had previously experienced flavoured my times and I just sat back and let all of the best times run through me.

We all live lives where it can become really overwhelming at times and all too often we can see nothing but all of the horrors that smash us along the way. But it’s not always the darkness that surrounds us and recognising that and making the most of it may be tough but believe me, it’s well worth it.

Look at the pictures!

 

 

FROM THE ASHES

I’m not going to talk about cricket.

Rather, I’m reflecting on the fact that even when everything in life falls to pieces, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost, never to be seen again.

I’ve been dealing with stuff this year which has been a kick in the balls to say the very least and you know what, it’s had an effect on what I’ve been able to achieve. I’ve tried to keep my mind going, to keep coming up with ideas that I can use in the latest novel or for a short story and to keep writing, but for at least the past four months, I’ve had nothing.

Every time I considered the idea of working on the latest book, every time I tried to work out some ideas for another short story collection, I just couldn’t.

Now I’ve spoken about the feeling of writers block before but this time it was so much worse. It wasn’t the sensation of not being able to come up with anything, that I could have dealt with. This time, I was struck by a mental fog which didn’t just shackle my creative process, it wrapped itself around every inch of my motivation and leeched out all of the colours. That fog was less putting up a wall around the ideas, imprisoning them behind stone to keep them from the page, as it was just stripping them apart in a demented dance of brutality that tortured and ultimately unmade them.

All I’ve been left with has been the hollow of nothingness where the ideas and the desire to write once were. That greyness. That void.

But yesterday, something shifted.

Rather than the brute force I’d tried throwing at the problem, all of a sudden, the way cleared itself, at least partially. Rather than there just being a blank space in my head where I usually kept all of my mental prompts for writing, the prompts were coming back. I’ve had a few ideas for stories which I’ve been working on and I’m almost finished with my first short story in a while. Roughly speaking, I’ve started a small counter offensive against the nothingness and the first skirmish has almost been won.

The Phoenix as a metaphor is there to show that no matter the destruction around us, we can all climb back out of the depths of despair. It’s a good story but when you’re in the void it can be tough to keep hold of the thought of escape. It was certainly tough for me.

But my stories have begun to come back. I spent the evening celebrating my mum’s birthday and collectively as a family, we’re trying to clamber out of the pit. Tonight was a good night despite the empty chair at the table but from the ashes ……………

Watch this space.

IF

Powerful little word, if.

You don’t have to add much to it to find yourself staring at the sheer rock face of possibilities. You see, with a little effort, that lonely little word can become, ‘What if?’ but also, ‘If only’ and without even having to really do anything, deep thought awaits.

In both of these examples, the little word ‘if’ teases us with the thoughts of that which didn’t come to pass. How often do we hear people saying ‘If only’ they’d done, or indeed not done, something which had brought them to a particular unhappy position. They lament having turned left rather than right, they shouldn’t have gone to bed angry or not had that last drink.

These and so many other examples all appear when we regret. We look at the world that we’re in and can identify that a single event was the one that made this specific timeline switch tracks. We regret and, thanks to the horrifying perfection of hindsight, can see exactly where we went wrong and long for the chance to just take that one thing back.

I’ve had an element of this in mind for some bits and pieces I’ve been working on but I’m able to cast a new view as my own life experiences grow.

The other example I gave of the power of ‘if’ was ‘What if?’ and it’s very similar in terms of the view of what could have been but this time, rather than just focusing on the event, now we’re trying to extrapolate from an event, what would have happened following the right rather than left turn. The easiest and possibly largest ‘What if’ is ‘What if the Nazi’s had won WWII?’ Stories have been told starting from this very ‘What if?’ and minds can wander in any and all directions playing with the ideas of the ‘What if’.

Now it’s the ‘What if’ that grabbed me recently.

I’ve been working on some short story ideas with a view to eventually putting together another collection of stories but I realised that the ‘What if’ would be the perfect place to start from. What if humans had evolved from lizards rather than mammals? What if the meteor impact that made the dinosaurs extinct carried a form of alien life which became humans? What if we are alone in the universe?

Now I appreciate that these ideas listed here float around a similar point but the possibilities are almost endless. I’m plonking away on a collection of ideas but I’m also reaching out to the world for other ideas.

Is there a ‘What if’ you’d like to see examined in a short story? Please comment if you have something you’d like to have me work with.

It could be amazing.

If Only!

CREATING MONSTERS

It’s been going on for years and years that authors turn a situation or person from the real world into a monster in one of their stories. Creatures of all shapes and sizes are used as metaphors for any and all eventualities and can provide a level of depth to what’s being written which may not have been as easily accessible without the outside influence.

I’m a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the different monsters which rumble across the screen each episode represent a different issue that may creep up in the real world. The use or overuse of magic is discussed as thinly veiled disguise for the same issues with drugs. A boyfriend giving a girl the brush off after they’ve got down and dirty together gets redeployed as Angel losing his soul and turning evil.

Now I’ve spoken previously about ways that writers can use their words as a catharsis to cast away pain and trauma but I’ve recently found a great example of an actor doing just that when creating his portrayal of a role.

While filming The Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin was coming to terms with the death of his father to cancer and found himself able to place the brutal disease as the six fingered man so when he delivered the line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” he was able to fight the very thing that robbed him of his father.

I’m doing the same thing in my head at the moment. I’ve managed to start some work on a handful of ideas for short stories and in all of them I find myself putting the death of my own father into different elements to try and work through the grief.

I can only hope that mine are even partially as successful a Mandy Patinkin’s delivery. Thanks to YouTube, here’s the clip for you.

You have to watch to the very end and I can’t echo the feeling enough.

 

NORMALITY?

With everything that’s been going on recently, it’s brought it into sharp focus for me that trying to maintain a level of normality is really tough. Trying to do all of the things you have to in life gets really challenging when something brutal lands but the turning wheel of the normal will continue to turn, regardless of anything else.

So how do you maintain the slog through all of the normality when something else is trying to rip you apart?

That’s been the state of play for me for the last weeks and today was the first day back in work since my dad left us. I’ve been looking after my wife after she had an operation as well, so I’ve been able to keep my mind active but going back to work has given me a new challenge. In work, aside from the various times where life throws the occasional curve ball, work is familiar. Work is ordered. Work can mean that you delve into swathes of normality which can leave you with no protection against the thoughts of the monster attacking you.

This can mean distractions and all of a sudden you may have mistakes. Those on the outside know what you’ve been going through but normality still needs to be maintained.

Now this has been awful for us. I’ve hated the thoughts that have gone through my head and trying to keep my focus on what has to be done in the world around me has been tough. I can imagine that my family have had the same problems but what my mum is going through must be pulverizing.

But we have to go on when we grieve. We have to make sure that the real world continues even when we feel it can’t.

I think I’ll be able to create deeper characterisations in my writing with the added experience of what I’m feeling now and being back in the ‘office’ today did feel positive for getting me moving. The normal is a vital chunk of what we see and do and it’s so easy to have that become uncomfortable when something goes wrong but I’ve found that the normal is just another colour in the palette of life, and as such shouldn’t be overlooked.