What Are You Talking About?

June 19, 2010 at 5:52 am (Dialogue, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

It has occurred to me recently that if I were to actually write dialogue the way most people speak there is very little chance that someone who wasn’t inside either of the speaker’s heads would understand what on earth the conversation was about.

For instance, I recently overheard the following conversation.

“Did it?”

“Ya. Like.. Just yeah.”

“OMG. Really. This is just… Oh my god.”

“So have you told..?”

“Shut-up.”

“Ooh.”

“Shut-up.”

“We have to tell…”

“Duh.”

“She’s… Where is she?”

“Hm. Dunno.”

And this continued for another few minutes and then the two people talking walked away. An entire conversation unfolding and yet nothing that actually identified a subject or point to the conversation. What if characters spoke like this in books? The reader would need a lot of narration surrounding the conversation to make heads or tails of it.

Then again, my characters always speak far too precisely. I’m trying to work on that and find a more natural flow for the dialogue.

What about your characters? Do they speak in grammatically correct English or do they take a more natural approach? Love to hear your thoughts.

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Heroic Failure

June 16, 2010 at 5:30 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.

Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.

So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?

Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.

Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.

If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.

Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.

Your thoughts?

Who are the heroes that you never liked?

What makes a hero work for you?

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More on Plot

June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Continuing on from yesterday where I looked at losing the plot in the mess and lack of clarity about what the plot actually is.

For me, plot is about characters. The events are less significant than how the characters react to them. In that way, the small and insignificant can take on much greater meaning when seen through the eyes of the character and the character reactions keep driving the story forward. But that isn’t always how people see stories.

So what makes a plot interesting?

The argument about there being no new stories certainly has quite a lot of weight behind it and if there are only seven plots (though you could contest that number if you like) then how do you make your particular plot line sound new and fresh and interesting. We’ve seen from the Avatar phenomenon that just putting a coat of paint on an old idea (moving a previously explored plot to an alien world) doesn’t really work as far as stopping criticism of rip-offs, meanwhile clearly the old story worked and so people found definite enjoyment in the plot even while criticising the movie.

One of my favourite segments from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the television series) was when they described the basic theme of this one band’s songs. Boy meets girl who kiss near a setting sun which then promptly explodes. The way that line was delivered in the hum-drum, we’ve seen this all before, etc, etc was hilarious. How can the band continue to sell the same song over and over (though I guess many bands do this already when I think about it)? What makes a plot original and feel new?

I don’t know that anyone can actually answer that question because it is like trying to figure out what is going to be cool tomorrow. Plenty of stories that have been straight out rip-offs have become legendary while the original subject matter has faded into obscurity, meanwhile other writers get stones thrown at them because they dared to have a jealous best friend or a disgruntled worker.

What I do know is that there has to be some underlying point to the story for me to enjoy it, even if that point is only that there is no point. I know that heavily moralistic tales that feel the need to beat me over the head with the author’s values bore me. I know that every time I read a fantasy that starts with a farm boy I seriously question whether to read the next page or not. And I know that any book with a dragon in it will at least get my attention for a little while regardless of how bad the rest of the story may be.

Share your thoughts – what makes a good plot?

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Is This Annoying You Yet?

June 11, 2010 at 5:20 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Lua Fowles on Bowl of Oranges wrote a post about how to annoy a rookie writer which was an excellent read. I particularly like her second point where someone suggests to her that she should write about their friend who is cool. I love her response to that.

A couple of days ago I was ‘offered’ a kind story suggestion from someone. They’d made a comment about time travel, or gaps in time, or something that I hadn’t particularly listened to. Anyway, the next thing I know they are telling me I can use this for an idea in my next story.

Why?

They thought they were being helpful but I considered it this way. If I go to a restaurant with a mixed bag of groceries, march into the kitchen and drop them on the work bench before announcing, “You can use these to make a meal”, am I being helpful or annoying?

At the time I simply pointed out that time travel wasn’t really my thing because it leant itself far more to science fiction than to fantasy (though it is used in fantasy and quite well but I don’t really want to deal with overcoming paradoxes and the like so I’ll leave time travel to others for now). I additionally pointed out that I’m in the middle of a project at the moment and won’t be thinking about a next story for several months at least with the project I’m working on and projects I already have written but need to do some serious editing work on.

I didn’t get annoyed by this. They thought it was a great idea and maybe it had been a great idea (I probably should listen better to people). They weren’t being condescending or rude or anything like that. They just weren’t very helpful.

I’m the cook and I already went out and found my ingredients after pouring through all the recipes I might have considered. I’ve already done the prep work and cut up all the ingredients and half of them are in the pot cooking. And having gone through the bag that I was delivered I don’t even know a recipe I can cook with that particular combination of food stuffs so I’m really unlikely to use them.

The problem here was that as a non-writer this person didn’t really get the time and dedication required to work on an idea. To them, here is an idea, write the story, done. The thought that I wasn’t looking for new ideas and didn’t really want that idea hadn’t really occurred to him.

Do people do this to you? How do you deal with ‘helpful’ suggestions?

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5 Reasons I’ll Read Your Blog

June 10, 2010 at 5:42 am (Author Info) (, , , , , , , , , )

You hear it all the time. There are so many good blogs out there (and just so many blogs period) that you just don’t have time to read them all. I love reading blogs and adding comments and going back to find out if someone has replied to my comment. I find it far more satisfying than Facebook though it is a toss-up whether I prefer twitter or blogs as my online social media of choice.

I love blogs. They share so much fantastic information and there are so many writers (published or not) that are sending out so much good advice and sharing their thoughts. It really is a case of so much to choose from, how do I decide?

That said, how do I find the blogs I read and how do I decide which ones to read. Here are my top 5 reasons for landing on someone’s blog.

1.  You commented on my blog. Yes, I visit every blog of every person who comments here. Even if only for a moment before moving on. Usually I find something really interesting to read. Sometimes I realise I’ve already been to your blog (and you were in point of fact returning the favour from my comment) but then I see you have a new post and I have something new to read. I’ve been playing blog tag with a few people for awhile now. The only time I can’t do this is if the person who has commented hasn’t left a blog address for me to go to.

2.  I follow you on twitter. Usually this means you’ve just tweeted about your latest blog post and I’ve hit the link.  Interestingly, most the people I elect to follow on twitter are people who have blogs that I’ve visited that have a follow me on twitter badge. This is all getting very linky.

3.  You’re listed on a blog that I visit regularly. Yes, I read blog rolls on blogs that I really enjoy and I occasionally randomly click on names on the list. I like blog rolls that tell you when the blog was last updated because then I know if there is something recent to read.

4.  I was searching for something on google and somehow the key words I was searching for have found your blog. This one doesn’t happen so often and I don’t tend to stick around these blogs for as long, though occasionally I find a gem.

5.  The readomattic feature from WordPress.  Anyone who has posted onto a WordPress blog using the tags I use will come up in this list (when it is functioning) and I can read the first part of their post to see if I’m interested. I’ve found some very good blogs this way.

So there you have it.  My top 5 reasons for visiting and reading your blog.  How do you find the blogs you read? How did you find this one?

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Making Stuff Up

June 6, 2010 at 5:50 am (Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

Even though I write fantasy I kind of avoid just making random things up. I tend to read widely and borrow bits from here and there and put them together in new ways.  There’s a reason for this. When you just make stuff up it tends to sound like it is entirely made up because people don’t have any kind of connection to it or understanding of it. They have no history with the concept and so it becomes a harder idea to sell to the reader in terms of believability (and despite writing fantasy I know that I want my reader to believe the world they are in, even if only for a little bit).

That said, I’m being a little more ambitious with my latest WIP. I’m still basing most of the creatures and things on common mythologies but I’m definitely adding more of my own designs to the mix. Whether this will work or end up an incomprehensible mess of overly descriptive fluff is yet to be determined but I’m really enjoying the process. I’ve drawn on most of my previous knowledge about miscellaneous beasties and thought about my favourite creatures from movies and television and then still considered things I’ve read about in other stories and taken a bit from here, there and everywhere to come up with some really interesting creatures to populate my world.

For interesting read deadly and just plain nasty.

Of course I then have the fantastic problem of trying to figure out what to name these things. I’ve learned not to attach any name to something until I’m sure it is right because names, once used, tend to stick and that can lead to disaster if the name was utterly wrong to begin with. I’ve been describing each new addition to the world to a few friends and been judging by their faces as to whether I’ve totally lost touch or not. And if their faces weren’t letting me know than the strained tones as they say words like ‘interesting’ or ‘that’s different’ certainly would.

I think every writer needs that test audience, particularly if they are venturing into unfamiliar territory. And I’ve carefully selected the order I talk to people in. Fantasy fans first, because that’s who I want to read the stories. But fantasy readers tend to be more accepting of bizarre so if the idea passes that test I check it out on a few people who don’t go for fantasy at all just to see if I can convince them such a creature could exist.

You know, when you are kid you don’t worry about all these things. Of course the cupcakes joined together and formed a massive creature with jelly eyes and a dress made out of sprinkles. You don’t worry whether you can sell that idea to anyone, you just do it.

Oh well.

How often do you make things up and do you run them by a test audience first?

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