Archive for the ‘media’ Tag
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Whenever a writer is portrayed in a film or TV series, the process is always the same. They sit at their typewriter or PC (depending on how old the series is), banging out the words, they print out a huge stack of pages, and then they write ‘The End’ with a flourish, and proudly present finished manuscript to agent/publisher.
I know TV misrepresents a great deal of professionals, but I always want to shout at the screen at this point. I don’t know any writer who can churn off a first draft that is perfect and publishable and in need of absolutely no revisions.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, there are generally two ways of approaching the writing of a manuscript. Some writers start the first draft with a clear goal of getting to the end. The first draft is likely to be full of inconsistencies and plot holes, but the important thing is to get to the end of the first draft and remember that everything can be fixed in the rewrite. This is my approach. The first draft is effectively putting up the scaffolding. The bricks and mortar and everything else that is required for the construction to be solid and functional can be added in future drafts.
Then there are other writers who revise as they go. Every time they sit down to write, they review what they wrote before and they will quite often go back and polish, or revise and rewrite bits before moving on. So by the time they get to the end they have effectively got a finished product. But it’s hardly a first draft, because many changes and amendments have been made along the way.
Whichever way works for you is something that only you will be able to decide, possibly after much trial and error. The point is, revision is essential to the writing process. How many rewrites are required will, again, vary from writer to writer, and may well depend on how much thought goes into the first draft. Some writers I know spend quite a lot of time thinking about each sentence before writing it down, whereas I would rather tap into that early morning flow of words and type the first thing that comes into my head. It means I’m more likely than that more ponderous writer to re-read what I’ve written and shriek, “what was I thinking? This is complete rubbish and makes no sense”. But I know I’ve got several rewrites to get it right, so that doesn’t worry me.
Like many things misrepresented in the media, writing is not as easy as it’s portrayed on TV. And no one gets it right the first time.
And so this is the Fifth Commandment. Thou shalt rewrite. And rewrite, and rewrite again, until the manuscript is so polished it shines.
(Cross-posted on the Write Club blog) How many of you remember getting assignments to write stories in school? My heart always leapt with joy when that happened. Generally some people were always asked to read their stories aloud to the class. And there was always that one person who’d written some fantastic and implausible adventure, only to finish with, “and then I woke up and realised it was all a dream.”
This is another of those tropes that was probably once perfectly acceptable, but it has been done so often that it has become too predictable. A similarly over-used trope is that one where the characters are actually dead and don’t realise it until the end of the story. In spite of these two tired old tropes being over-used, there are nevertheless recent examples of both of them being used in TV shows (*cough* ‘Lost’ *cough*).
An author might decide to end their story this way to provide a twist to the tale. The problem is that it’s been used so often that this revelation no longer comes as a surprise. To me, it rather smacks of the author writing themselves into a corner and not being able to think of another way of getting out of it.
Plot twists and turns make a thrilling read, but avoid getting into a situation where you get your character into such a sticky situation you can’t work out how to extricate them from it.
For fear of sounding like a broken record, this is why plotting is important. I have read more than one novel where strange things happen to the character, and I turned the pages eagerly, wanting to know why these things are happening, only to come across the “it was all a dream” ending. I interpret this to mean the author couldn’t be bothered to think of a more original ending. I accept that much of this is personal opinion, but I have heard similar view expressed by agents, and ending in such a way puts a lot of agents and editors off any further negotiations with the author.
So here we have the Second Commandment of Writing: thou shalt come up with a better ending than “it was all a dream”.
Join me next week, when I shall be exploring the difference between “showing” and “telling”.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
For the next few weeks in this series of posts, I will be focusing on things that you should not do in your writing. As a disclaimer I will add that you will always find examples of these in published work. Thus proving that if you bring in a huge profit for your publisher, you can pretty much get away with anything you want. But for unknown writers, trying to get a contract, there are just some things that will put an editor off. And these are the things that I want to share with you. The things that I have learned – generally the hard way – not to do.
The trope we are dealing with today is the situation of having two characters discuss something they both already know for the sole purpose of telling the reader about it. In my writing group we tend to refer to it as “As You Know Bob” syndrome or a case of “So tell me again, Professor, how your time machine works.”
Imagine, if you will, a novel that begins with the sentence:
“As you know, Prince Edward, your father, King Henry, has been at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Ilyria for nearly twenty years,” the prince’s aide said.
There is a lot of information here, but since it is all detail that Prince Edward (presumably a major character) already knows, this is a clumsy way of relaying it to the reader. If I were to read a novel starting with this sentence, I doubt I’d get beyond that first line.
The ‘TV Tropes’ website goes into more detail about this particular literary tool, giving examples from film, TV and literature that are guilty of it. Sometimes it can work, but generally it doesn’t, and it is one of those tired old tropes that has been used so often it would put a lot of editors off if they picked up something from the slush pile that uses this. There are generally better ways to get vital information across to the reader. Perhaps one of the easiest examples to pull from popular contemporary TV is Dr Who, where the Doctor’s companion generally plays the role of the ‘Watson’ – the character who is assumed to be less knowledgeable than the audience, and therefore is the mechanism used to allow the main character (ie the Doctor) to explain things, to both the other character and the audience.
To go back to the ‘Time Machine’ example, let’s think about one of Hollywood’s more famous time machines, Doc Brown’s DeLorean in “Back to the Future”. Imagine if the conversation went like this:
MARTY: So tell me again, Doc, how your time machine works.
DOC BROWN: Well, as you know Marty, it is the flux capacitor that makes time travel possible. Let’s go over once more how it works….
In the film, this is not at all how it goes. An ordinary teenage boy plays the perfect ‘Watson’ to Doc Brown’s intellectual ‘Sherlock’, giving him someone to explain everything to. The audience learn about the time machine at the same time Marty does, when he is summoned to the Twin Pines Shopping Mall one October night in 1985. We never find out exactly how the flux capacitor works, but we don’t really need to know – it’s enough to know that it is the magical gadget that makes time travel possible. And it works.
And so there it is, the second commandment of writing – Thou shalt avoid conversations starting with “As You Know”. Join me next week when we explore the third commandment, which is all to do with how not to end your story.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the TV show ‘Dr Who’, and the UK has Who mania. The anniversary episode airs here tomorrow night, and it has been much hyped.
So I thought a post about this unique TV show was appropriate.
‘Dr Who’ first aired on British TV in 1963. The story goes that this little quirky science fiction show about an eccentric alien time traveller became so popular, that when its star William Hartnell decided he wanted to leave the show, the producers were so reluctant to finish the series they came up with the idea that since the character wasn’t human, he could regenerate into someone else so they could carry on with the series. They subsequently cast Patrick Troughton as The Doctor.
Every British kid has grown up with Dr Who since 1963. I know my dad has watched every episode. My earliest memory of the show is the episode in which Jon Pertwee regenerated into Tom Baker. That was 1974 – I would have been four years old. I remember it nonetheless. Tom Baker is the Doctor I grew up with – he played the part from 1974 to 1981. Sometimes it scared me silly (“The Hand of Fear” gave me nightmares for weeks), but I watched it every week anyway.
At the end of January 1980, we moved to Canada. At that time, ‘Dr Who’ wasn’t on over there. I pretty much missed everything between Peter Davidson and Sylvester McCoy, until I moved back to England in 1988 – until the early 1990s, when we got cable TV, and UK Gold repeated them all, and I was able to catch up.
Then there was a one-off TV movie, featuring Paul McGann as The Doctor, released in 1996 but set in 1999. It had American backing, was heavily Americanised and a lot of fans think it took too much creative licence to be true to the series.
Then in 2005 the series was relaunched again, internationally. Suddenly Americans and Canadians were big fans of ‘Dr Who’. Following Christopher Eccleston’s departure David Tennant played the role for five years, and when he left it was Matt Smith.
In my opinion, there are two types of Dr Who fans. There are those who have been following the series since its early days. And there are those who have been following it since its 21st century relaunch. This latter category of fans were a bit floored in a David Tennant episode when he made passing reference to having been a dad – the reaction was, “What? Where’s that come from? You can’t leave it there!” Those of us who have been with the show since the early days know that The Doctor’s first companion was his granddaughter Susan, and therefore we already know he must have been a dad once.
The fans who have only been watching it in the last eight years are getting a different sort of experience. The 21st century ‘Dr Who’ has a bigger budget, more spectacular special effects and far more complex story lines. The last couple of years have been even more complex. Once upon a time, you could sum up ‘Dr Who’ in one sentence: “Eccentric 900-year-old alien travels through space and time in a space ship that looks like a police box”. Try and sum up the last two seasons of ‘Dr Who’ in one sentence, and you’ll struggle.
There has also been a precedent, in recent years, to cast young good-looking men in the role of The Doctor, and have attractive female companions who he gets to snog. This is, as I understand it, to attract more young women into watching the show, but it has given it a whole new dimension that just wasn’t present in the old days. Could you imagine Tom Baker’s Doctor snogging Sarah Jane Smith? It was unthinkable. He just wasn’t that sort of Doctor.
In the UK, you can generally tell people’s age by which Doctor they grew up with. Tom Baker remains my favourite – he was constant throughout my childhood. David Tennant is a close second, but it’s a different league because he is one of the new incarnations of The Doctor.
The much-anticipated 50th anniversary episode is on tomorrow night, and sneak previews have been promising. I remain optimistic that this show will marry the old series with the new – and therefore unite all fans. That’s a tall order, I know, for a TV show. Whether or not it will deliver, remains to be seen. Every ‘Dr Who’ fan in the UK will be glued to the TV tomorrow night.
As a further homage to ‘Dr Who’, it seems appropriate to end on this Youtube video, which merges every single sequence of opening credits, from 1963 to 2013. You can tell from this how the show has changed over the years. At some point in the 1970s, it changed to colour. The sequence from the Paul McGann film has a definite ‘Hollywood’ influence. Sylvester McCoy’s opening sequence has a suspiciously 1980s flavour. And the practice of including the current face of The Doctor in the credits, which was dropped in the 21st century series, returns for the last season of Matt Smith’s run – hinting of a return to the original storyline.
So, fellow, Who fans, I want to hear from you. What’s your earliest memory of The Doctor? Though I ask you not to comment on the 50th anniversary episode for the time being, at least – let’s avoid spoilers for those who will be catching up with it later!
As a precursor to this blog, I am issuing a warning that it might get political.
I don’t read newspapers anymore. They all have a political bias and I just get cross. I get most of my news from the BBC news channel (or its website) these days, which seems to have at least some semblance of objectivity. Newspapers all seem too keen to point the finger of blame at whose fault it is the world’s in a global recession. Corrupt politicians. Unscrupulous wealthy people. Or it’s all the fault of single mothers and people on benefits – depending on which paper it is.
When I was 18 I was a rampant socialist – bordering on communist, in fact. I thought it was grossly unfair that some people had money and some people did not. Then I finished high school in Canada and moved back to England. I had a plan to go to university here. I discovered that I was not entitled to any kind of financial assistance to aid with fees, as I had been out of the country for too long. Nor could I claim unemployment benefit, I discovered when I went to do so. Instead, I went out to find a job. Having no particular skills or experience, I went after any sort of job that was available. I ended up working in a book shop for a few years.
When I was 21 I qualified as a ‘mature student’ and could do a university degree part time in evening classes. So this is what I did. It took me six years, instead of the usual three. By that point I had a local office job, for a software distribution company, so after working all day I ended up taking a train and hauling all the way over to North London to attend my lectures. I got home late, and often nodded off during them. I spent most of my weekends doing course work – doing the reading, or working on essays. Several TV shows I’d previously been addicted to I stopped watching when I realised I had six weeks’ worth of episodes recorded and never had time to catch up. And at the beginning of each term I paid the fees out of my own hard-earned cash. When I finally got my degree – a 2:1 in English Literature – I felt like I’d earned it.
I was also 21 when Hubby and I, having decided we were in this relationship for the duration (though we weren’t married at that point), bought our first place together. It was 1991, and property prices in London were on a downward spiral. We bought a tiny one-bedroom flat on a brand new estate. It was all we could afford at the time. Developers were keen to sell, given the market crash. By the time we moved into the place, it was worth about half what it had been when they had started to build.
Five years later, we moved to a two-bedroom split level maisonette. We recruited friends and family and a mini van to move all our stuff. It took seven trips to move everything out, and we wondered how we managed to fit so much stuff into such a tiny place. We also ended up being in negative equity, since the flat was worth less when we sold it than it was when we bought it.
The negative equity was gone by the time we sold the maisonette in 2003, because by that point property prices had skyrocketed, and they’ve never really fallen in the same way since. Our most recent move last year took us to a four-bedroom house. I don’t apologise for that. It’s taken us 20 years to get to a house that size. We have more stuff, and more income, and can now afford a bigger mortgage. And we could also afford a removal company, to take away the stress of having to pack up and move everything ourselves.
I have been part of the British workforce for 25 years now. In all that time, I have paid my taxes and claimed maybe two months’ worth of unemployment benefit. I have never walked out of one job without having another one lined up, no matter how much I hated it (and believe me, I’ve had some jobs I really hated) and in spite of being made redundant several times, I soon discovered that as long as you can type and have some organisation skills and office experience, there are always temp jobs available while you look for permanent employment – just as long as you don’t mind where you work, or for whom.
I don’t believe that the majority of the rich are out to screw over the poor, like I don’t believe that the majority of the poor are benefit cheats. There are, of course, always bad apples in every barrel, and these are the ones the media focuses on. But it’s dangerous to make sweeping generalisations. Human nature makes people criticise those they envy, and cry, ‘not fair’ because someone else has something they don’t.
But you know what? Life isn’t fair. That’s a lesson that should be learned by everyone early in life. My politics have shifted in the 25 years I’ve been part of the working world. Everything I have in my life – including the house, the holidays and the English degree – I’ve worked for without assistance or subsidies from anywhere (well OK, apart from the mortgage, but to qualify for one of those these days you have to have a good track record of paying it back, and it gets paid every month).
We all make choices in life. And we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. I chose not to have children. Maybe I’ll be alone when I get old if Hubby goes first and I have no other relatives, but that’s the choice I’ve decided to make. I have chosen not to take the plunge and give up the day job to write full time. If I were to do that, maybe I’d have more time to write, get more done and hence make more money from the writing, but I’m not really a risk taker, and I’m not willing to take that chance. So my choice, instead, is to continue to juggle the day job with the writing, even if it means having to keep getting up at 5:30 am to find time to write.
Sometimes we are dealt a bad hand in life, through no fault of our own. These are difficult times we live in, and a lot of very well qualified people have found themselves unemployed because their companies have gone bust or have had to downsize. Some of these people have mortgages to pay and children to provide for, and life is hard. And they might think that’s unfair. I thought it was unfair all the times when I got laid off. Sometimes it was a struggle for us to pay the mortgage on one salary. But we got by. We had to cut back for a while, on everything. And we got through it.
Life is unfair. We can’t always get what we want.
Human beings have a tendency to blame their problems on someone else. Blame the rich, for exploiting the poor. Blame the poor, for cheating the benefits system. Blame the immigrants, for coming over here and taking all our jobs (and incidentally I have heard this line from locals in every single country I’ve visited). Blame the corrupt politicians for taking cash away from services to line their own pockets. I’m not saying there aren’t unscrupulous rich, or benefit cheats, or corrupt politicians, because obviously there are. But they don’t all fall in this category, and we shouldn’t be so quick to allocate blame to a particular group of people.
People I knew who were in this world a few years ago are no longer with us. Life may not be quite the way you want it to be, but every birthday you pass still breathing, is an achievement. No matter how many excuses you make, you still have control of every decision you make in your life. If you want things to change, you have to make the first move. But change is difficult – and sometimes it seems insurmountable. So it’s easier to keep on the well trodden path and come up with excuses why you can’t get off it.
I am not pulling these meaningless phrases out of the air. I am the first person to resist change. When my parents divorced I was six years old, and not only did that change shake my life up, I spent the next 25 years blaming them for everything that went wrong in my life. But I did in the end learn to forgive them and move on. Perhaps I should have been able to let go of this earlier than I did, but I was slow to learn the lesson that the experience presented to me. I’m also still learning the lesson that change is generally a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.
I am now getting off the soap box. I’ve had my say. You don’t have to agree with me, and that’s OK.
Political broadcast now over. Normal service will be resumed with the next post.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
For my fourth and final post on Women in Horror, I’m looking at the heroine of the TERMINATOR films. OK, maybe this is more science fiction than horror, but it’s a series that deals with horror themes. Machines take sentience and try to destroy the human race. The second film opens with apocalyptic scenes of a nuclear blast, an empty playground, machines crushing piles of human skulls in their wake. And it’s the second film I want to focus on, the film in which Sarah Connor becomes a kick-ass heroine.
When we meet Sarah in the first TERMINATOR film, she’s an ordinary American young woman. She works as a waitress, she goes to college, she laments with her flat mate about not being to find Mr Right. And then her life changes when she learns a cybernetic entity from the future is hunting her down, and will not stop until she’s dead. The reason she’s being hunted is not for something she’s done, but something that will happen in the future. When the machines rise up to destroy humanity they almost succeed, but one man leads a band of human survivors to victory. That man, John Connor, is Sarah’s son – the son she hasn’t conceived yet.
Aided by the man that her son sent back in time to help save her – a man who turns out to be the father of her son, conceived the one and only time she sleeps with him (yes, let’s not dwell on that paradox too much lest our brains explode), Sarah manages to escape from the Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped cyborg, though her rescuer is killed in the process. The end of the film shows her alone and pregnant, driving through Mexico, knowing the Hell of the future that is to come and burdened with the knowledge that the unborn child she carries is the last hope for humanity. That’s got to change a person.
It’s the second film in which Sarah becomes a lean mean fighting machine. Eleven years have passed. Her son John is a hellion, placed in foster care because Sarah has been sectioned. Caught trying to blow up an electronics factory and ranting about the machines that were going to destroy humanity, she was deemed to be mad and locked up in an institution. In her first scene in T2, she is doing arm lifts on bars in her cell room, bulging biceps clearly on show and wearing the expression of a woman who is completely sane and in control of her faculties. Linda Hamilton took her role as Sarah Connor seriously, engaging in a gruelling workout routine before the second film, to demonstrate the hardcore survivor that Sarah had become in the years since the first film. Eventually breaking out of the mental institution with the help of her son and the Arnold Schwarzenegger cyborg who’s now a Good Guy – the cybernetic assassin from the future who’s been sent back to kill John Connor as a child is even more devastating and unstoppable than the first one was – Sarah goes after the electronics engineer who will develop the computer chip that will directly lead to computers gaining sentience – the cataclysm that marks the beginning of the end for humanity. On the way we learn just how tough this woman has become. She has all manner of contacts around the country, stashing weapons and supplies with all of them. And her only motive is to do what it takes to survive – long enough to raise her son to adulthood and ensure he grows into the man who will save humanity. Sarah Connor is a self-taught bad ass. Once she came to terms with her fate (can’t be easy finding out just when and how the world will end, and that you’re going to survive to suffer the aftermath), she set out to learn the skills she would need to survive.
John Connor is presented as the most important human ever to live, because he’s the leader of the human survivors and he takes them into victory. But John would not have become the man he does without Sarah – so in one sense, she’s the most important human in the world. She’s the one that saves humanity, because she turns John into the leader he needs to be.
As far as female role models go, you don’t get much better than that.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
It might have been over 30 years ago, but few films measure up to ALIEN. A masterful blend of suspense, science fiction and horror, this film about a group of space explorers who encounter a terrifying alien predator still measures up to the test of time and has audiences on the edge of their seat. And its main character is another inspiring female role model.
Rumour has it that Ripley was written as a male character. In 1979, when this film came out, no one really took seriously the idea that a woman could be part of a space crew – even in science fiction. Let alone one as resourceful and enterprising as Ellen Ripley. But someone decided, early on in production, that a man would not go back to rescue the ship’s cat, when all the rest of the crew were dead and Ripley, as sole survivor, is trying to get to the escape pod. This was an integral plot point, as the alien gets into the escape pod whilst Ripley is in the ship getting the cat.
Another story goes that all of the characters in ALIEN were deliberately written to be genderless, so that any of them could be equally played by a man or a woman.
Whether or not either of these stories are true, I don’t know, but the fact remains that Ripley is a leading lady who does not shag anyone, doesn’t cook and doesn’t actually do anything different from the men. Except she keeps her head and therefore survives when the rest panic and get killed. In the decidedly misogynist world of Hollywood this is a rarity, even in the 21st century, and at the end of the 1970s it was pretty much unprecedented.
The second film ALIENS goes a step further and explores the concept of Ripley as a woman. Having been in suspended animation following the events of the first film, she awakens to discover that she has been lost in space for decades and that her daughter, left behind on Earth, has grown old and died in her absence. Thus she becomes particularly protective of the young orphan girl, Newt, the only survivor of a colony that has been attacked by the alien. Feeling guilty about not being there to protect her own daughter, Ripley takes on the responsibility of getting Newt out alive. The image attached to this post is one of the best portrayals of Ripley in this context – carrying the girl in one arm, whilst wielding a bad-ass gun in the other. And she has a cracking aim with that gun, even one-handed.
Ripley remains one of the best heroines of both horror and science fiction of all time. It’s rare that actresses are offered such a wonderful role, and it is testament to Sigourney Weaver’s talent that she was able to bring Ripley to life in such a human way.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
February is Women in Horror month, where we officially pay homage to the importance that women play in the horror genre.
This year I am going to be doing a series of posts acknowledging those kick-ass heroines who redefine the role of women in horror.
OK, so let’s start at the top. I am a HUGE Buffy fan.There are so many reasons why she is such a great role model. Joss Whedon said that the inspiration for Buffy came from the fact that in the horror films he grew up with, the blonde girl was always the one to creep alone down the corridor and get eaten by the monster. He decided the blonde girl should fight back. So he created his teenage California girl who had superpowers. Who was chosen to kick vampire butt.
There are a thousand reasons why I love Buffy. It’s the only show I will make a point of watching reruns of when they are on. The only show where I can start watching a random episode and know within five minutes not only which series it is, but which episode it it. It has irony. It has real, flawed characters who are affected by the world around them and change from series to series. One of the great things I loved from the beginning was the way it handled adolescence with sensitivity and wry humour. Anyone who’s been a teenager knows the hell that is High School. Every kid has to fight demons in high school. For most of us, those demons are metaphorical. Buffy’s demons just happen to be literal. As well as having to deal with the usual adolescent angst of not being popular, whether she’ll have a date for the dance, getting into trouble with her folks for staying out late, bullies, jocks vs geeks and so on, she also has to save the world from demons, vampires and the occasional apocalypse. And she still manages to graduate from high school (well, after she saves everyone from the ancient snake demon posing as the Mayor).
People who don’t understand my obsession with Buffy have said: “if you like Buffy, you must like Twilight. They’re both about girls in love with a vampire”. If you can’t get the difference, I can’t begin to explain it to you. Just watch this terrific video. Yes, I know I’ve posted it before, but it so proves a point.
Yes, Buffy loves Angel. But at the end of season 2, when she has to kill Angel to save the world, she does it. Even though she loves him. Because a true heroine has that kind of strength of character. And that’s another reason I love Buffy.
February is official Women in Horror month. If you don’t want to click the link and read the official blurb, I have posted the mission statement here.
“Every February, Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. WiHM seeks to expose and break down social constructs and miscommunication between female professionals while simultaneously educating the public about discrimination and how they can assist the female gender in reaching equality.”
A group of fellow writers have come together on AbsoluteWrite to promote WiHM, as we did last year. Here is a list of participating blogs. Not everyone has begun to post yet, but please check out these blogs regularly over the next month to keep up to date with what’s going on.
Last year I promoted several female horror writers. This year, in an attempt to do something different, I’m going to showcase fictional kick-ass heroines of horror. I realise that fictional characters do not completely conform to the WiHM mission statement. However, I think female role models are crucial to young women, and the fictional ones, who know how to stand up for themselves, are just as important as real-life role models. So for the next four weeks I am going to showcase female leads who are no victims. Who do not stand there and scream before getting eaten by the monster. Women who know how to fight back. Women who know how to kick serious butt.
I will be running this series on Wednesdays, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog, so check back on 6 February to meet the first of my kick-ass horror heroines. Oh, and there will be no prizes for guessing who she will be.