The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for July, 2009

Grafting Flesh To Bones

Posted by BigWords on July 31, 2009

World Building

Once I have the idea nailed down and working properly, I jump a few steps in the process to get to the background of the characters and the world. It doesn’t work like this for everyone, but I need to know a few details before I get too excited. There’s a great metaphor from – of all things – Armageddon which I like using to illustrate the process of ‘packing the world’. If you  remember the scene explaining the mission, where the “fist around a firecracker” line gets trotted out then you have some idea of what I consider to be the way facts are wrapped around the story.

As long as there is something solid enough to grasp on to, then the reader should have less trouble with the big and psychotic swing to darker aspects of the story. A bit of soap opera nestled in the middle of something (horror, SF, thriller) will give verisimilitude, and this is where I normally drop in a few unfamiliar things in the hope they will be picked up on. Quick example: Even if you have no idea who Rudolf Diesel is, dropping him into a WWII story adds a layer of realism for those who do.

September 29, 1913. The Dresden.

Diesel sighed, his hands gripping the rail tightly as he gazed upon the fog-enclouded sea. The knowledge of the Machine heavy in his heart.
The Machine. The dreadful engine of destruction.

Time was running out. Too much was already known, and The Architects were aware of his creation.

Movement at the other end of the vessel caught Diesel’s eye. They had arrived.

This excerpt is, of course, about the mysterious events aboard The Dresden. It doesn’t need to be a famous individual which grounds the story, and references to belief (I’ve used a prayer to St. Caedwalla to covertly show character) or simple shared knowledge are equally as useful. The use of real events, people and locations fall, more or less, into two separate categories which fulfill different roles in the creation of a coherent universe. The first is simple, the second needs a bit of explanation.

Deep History

The use of any existing nation carries deep history. What happened a thousand years ago may not play directly into anything that exists in the novel, but the combined weight of events throughout the life of a country is present in even the slightest works. A novel about witches set in America carries the imagery of the Salem witch trials, while a similar novel set in the UK would feel the threads of the Witchfinders tangled deep in their fabric. French novels might play on the themes of Revolution whilst exploring the changes in management at a textile company…

It is easy to write a bad story while relying on deep history, and many people have fumbled the subtext while trying to be clever. Intelligence and a proper understanding of where we have come from is one thing, laziness in world-building is a completely different situation. You can only deliver on the promise of an idea if the reader is aware you are playing with the text as a historical analogy. I was going to expend a little space here explaining the reasons Dan Brown failed in this regard, but it would require a couple of thousand words on its’ own.

The first, and only, rule is one of compatibility with accepted history. You can’t up and claim that the planet is a cube unless you have altered everything in the history of the planet to take the change into consideration. Did Columbus still end up circumnavigating the cube? Which way does water go down the plughole? How does the shape of the planet affect the rising and falling of the sun? It is all connected through deep history.

The deep history also has to be able to fit creative history.

Creative History

Creative history is the shallow end of the story, which doesn’t need expansion unless the story turns into a series of books or is adapted to other media. This is best explained with a bestseller so I have the best chance of getting the idea across clearly. In the Harry Potter books, the Hogwarts school is a character in its’ own right, and thus depends on creative history to be placed in a specific time and location. When I use the phrase ‘creative history’ it is to indicate the hard facts rather than narrative.

In the case of Hogwarts the creative history would include the date on which the commencement of building was started. If you want to go farther with the  idea, you might want to consider where the stones were mined from, and how long it took for the building to be completed. This ignores the stories of the people who actually built the school, and the various uses of the complex over the centuries it has stood.

When additions to deep history are integrated into the creative history, it is essential to mix in facts from history. It’s like the firecracker I began this post with: If the fiction is wrapped in reality, then the end result tends to give more bang for your buck. All of which is only really useful if the story is set in the here and now. I’ll get to the finer points of my SF WIP in another post, but it is set out in a similar fashion to present-day stories.

I haven’t touched on the problem of duplication and redundancy in this post yet, so I should highlight the dangers of creating from whole cloth.

Duplication

If there is an existing organization or location which fits the needs of a fiction, the creation of a fictional counterpart brings up numerous problems. Is the deep history of the existing location affixed to the created location? Is the activities of the real organization attributed to the fictional group, or do they co-exist? I’ve come across this problem a few times, and I find it easier to use what already exists, tweaking the facts to suit my needs.

I always look for gaps and contradictions in history, so that the fictions I integrate can present themselves more easily as acceptable and readable. I’ve got the feeling that none of the questions raised by this post have been made clearly, so I’ll continue this later. In the meantime I’ll think on better ways to show how redundancy of material can needlessly complicate storytelling in unforseen ways.

TBC

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Plotting Something Nasty

Posted by BigWords on July 31, 2009

The Idea

We have to start with ideas, ’cause that is where stories begin. The embryonic novels, stuck between thought and existence, come out either fully-formed and healthy, or they’re in a poor shape and need nursed back to health. There have been some bastard-clever and very impressive explanations of inspiration across the bloggity-blogs lately, and I’m going to jump in with my own experiences.

There are different ways I get my inspiration, and even though I am (overly?) fond of Stephen King’s metaphor of the Muse shitting on me from a great height, I put in the work. I read a lot, so I take ideas or fragmented thoughts from there. Sometimes I drift off into my own little world, and sometimes it is the mundanities of the trudge across The Wasteland Dunfermline which provides me with a story or two. It doesn’t really matter where fiction appears from, and it is, in any case, irrelevant. The end result is all that matters.

At the weekend I was out drinking, and as I held the beer bottle up a shaft of light caught the bubbles floating to the the surface. BANG! I’m off on a train of thought, free-associating, crossing idea off and mixing alcohol-fuelled “whatifthey” mutterings with one eye out for a narrative. I come up with the strange idea of bubbles of reality slipping free from the surface of a membrane multiverse (Brain Theory For Dummies). It will annoy the hard-line SFers, but that is what ideas do… They appear out of nowhere.

If I could come up with a way to make sure I had a constant stream of ideas, or at least ration out my ideas for the lean periods, I would be soooo much happier. As it is, I keep coming up with new ideas when I’m meant to be getting on with the ones I’ve already started. I’m not going to stop writing them down, because I’m terrified I’ll forget a really good one, and that might be the one which breaks me out of the slush pile.

A ten-minute wait outside a retirement home was what gave me the idea for a Death Wish Meets Cocoon story, where the residents take up arms against a gang of thugs. I sat and watched the comings and goings and the story appeared. The Muse likes to torment me with concepts I know I can’t do justice to. I hate her, and she responds by throwing more high concept pitches at me like Joe Eszterhas at the feet of Bobby Evans…

But once the idea are in the can (or on paper) it is a whole other story. That is the time when I gold-plate and polish those turds into something less annoyingly stupid. It doesn’t help that I am run ragged with so many other commitments, and the polishing sometimes reveals the shit underneath, but that is half the fun… Whenever I read people complaining that they can’t get an idea, I get annoyed at the constant stream of half-formed concepts which I am bombarded with. Maybe I’m alone. Maybe I’m the only one seeing the possibilities that present themselves.

People have a tendency to look to books for answers when they can’t make stuff up. “What’s the proper answer?” “Why do I need…” NO! Stop it. Please. Fuck the How To’s. They interrupt the flow of the pure idea and confuse the beginner writer so that whatever comes out all sounds the same. Going with the gut instinct that leads to (1) character, (2) plot and (3) story is the only way to work out problems. And yet the writing world still fools people into believing that great novels can only be written once dark ceremonies have been performed, and incantations made.

There is no magic. There are no tricks.

“Oh mighty Mithras, slayer of wrestling dwarves and eater of babies, please bestow upon me great thoughts… And, uh… If you don’t mind, please make me rich.” The three candles are then lit in ceremonial fashion.

Gut instinct has to be balanced, and this is where I pay real attention. Does the flow of the story hinder the plot? Is the character served by the story? Is the plot right for the character? There are other flavors needed for a tasty mix, but those are the essential ingredients.

Strange how everything always tastes like chicken when I’m done…

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Time And Numbers

Posted by BigWords on July 30, 2009

Joe Shuster, co creator (Superman), died at 78 on this day in 1992.

I’ve been reading the pages of information available on the net about famous dates, and what happened on which day. Over the course of three or so hours of reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that there may be more to ‘clusters’ of interesting and important events than first appears. The concept of leylines has spread from the alternative scene to mainstream thinking, but ‘temporal lines’ is my own weird addition to the theory of hidden energy around us.

It may seem dumb, but if you think about the incredible coincidences which led to WWI or the various technologies coming together at the right time for the first space flight, then there may be something in the thought. Every so often there is a spurt of energy and we move forward as a species. I think that it’s kinda connected to evolution, but harder to pin down. Maybe coincidences, déjà vu, doppelgangers and convergences of ideas are all connected.

Maybe it is gestalt psychology, seeing order and patterns in the chaos and random events because we (as a species) can’t bear to have no control over the universe.

The same things happen with numbers. Cropping up in clusters over short periods of time, the immediate (and illogical) supposition is that there is a hidden meaning in the numbers, but once we see a number repeated in different places and in different circumstances it is harder to break the feeling that there is a conscious power behind the ‘message’. For me, the recurring numbers are 4, 8, 12, 28 and 88… They seem to crop up everywhere.

On loadings bars for downloads, on the front of disks, on the display panel of the DVD player.

The craziness is spreading…

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Someone Stupid This Way Comes

Posted by BigWords on July 29, 2009

The preponderance of idiotic behavior in humanity is spreading. A long held belief that ‘foolproof ideas’ can never be implemented because ‘they’ll just keep making better fools’ ain’t so far off, ’cause I have seen how dumb some people can be. Yeah, the idiots are reproducing at a rate which would make rabbits feel inadequate. Shee-yit, what the hell is wrong with people?

Only today – this morning in fact – I saw someone cycling along a train line. Given the fact that I was sitting at the station waiting on the train, this seems like a really dumb thing to do. It is asking for trouble when you venture onto a train line, but to cycle in the direction the train is goint to travel (i.e. the dumb asshole would have the train behind him) is suicidal.

I have read the Darwin Awards with some amusement since I discovered them some years ago, and I get the feeling that they aren’t going to run out of candidates any time soon. The lack of common sense isn’t limited to the extremely stupid either, as some otherwise normal people have been known to do exceedingly stupid things. Ignoring the bad influence of alcohol, the dumb gene can be present in anyone and show up unexpectedly.

There’s a theory I have, which explains some of the behavior I have witnesses: If you see someone behaving in a manner which is life-threateningly stupid, you will be ‘infected’ with an idea of equal idiocy. At least, that’s my excuse for ignoring people.

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Babylon 5 Images

Posted by BigWords on July 29, 2009

B5_Station_Signage_Information-Breather_base
B5_Station_Signage_Information-Turbolift_base
B5_Station_Signage_MedLab-Panel_base

Back when I was assisting with a fan-created Babylon 5 FPS I created a bunch of images which were taken from the television series. They have been sitting on disk for the better part of ten years, and as the game has yet to appear I guess I am in the clear to share them with people now.

B5_Station_Signage_Industrial-Authorized

B5_Station_Screens_C&C screen_small B5_Station_Screens_C&C screen_leftB5_Station_Screens_C&C screen_middleB5_Station_Screens_C&C screen_right

When I get the rest of the images off the disk I’ll put them with the other artwork.

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The Very Worst…

Posted by BigWords on July 28, 2009

Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of the worst examples of anything, in case anyone feels the irresistible need to waste their money on them, so I’ve set out the five worst DVDs, computer games and comic-books.

DVDs:

  1. 48 Days Later. Ripping off a successful film is one thing, but ripping off a good zombie film when the market is already full of top-notch films is another entirely. This is an entirely unproductive and irrelevant waste of both time and money. Steer clear.
  2. Jigsaw. Nothing to do with the Saw film franchise, this is a cheap horror flick wherein a group of art students piece together a dummy which comes to life and kills them. The film is too slow, too stupid and too terrible to describe, but to give you and idea – this is much worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space.
  3. Super Mario Bros. When you absolutely, positively have to bore every motherfucker in the room to death, accept no substitutes. This is one of the shallowest game adaptations ever made, even outdoing Street Fighter for sheer stupidity.
  4. Meet The Spartans. The first rule of a parody- no, waitasec… The ONLY rule of a parody is: be funny. This redefines the extremes of unfunny, once the private domain of films such as Spaceballs and Lethal Weapon 4. It’s marginally less painful than watching paint dry, but not by much.
  5. Elektra. This makes the list due to the butchery of a classic comic-book character. You might think Catwoman, Howard The Duck or Batman & Robin deserves to be named and shamed more than this, but it was the only comic-book film with the opportunity to revolutionize Eastern combat scenes for a Hollywood audience. Epic fail.

Computer Games:

  1. Hellboy: Asylum Seeker. I had high hopes for this, but it is so ridden with bugs and glitches as to make it completely unplayable. The constant crashes, awkward controls and ugly appearance are enough to send anyone rushing from their computer screaming in agony…
  2. Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. If being told “It was all a dream.” is annoying in a book, then in a computer game it is fucking unforgivable. Seriously, if people want to make a computer game based on Star Trek, at least let us play as Klingons so we can rip the heads off the alien enemies…
  3. Chrome. I had nearly forgotten about this, seeing as how it manages to have no original ideas whatsoever. It steals from nearly every FPS of the previous five years, manages to have the worst ladders in gaming history, has a story that barely counts as one and… Aw, hell- It’s too depressing to think about.
  4. TMNT. Film tie-in’s are meant to be bad, but this is terrible even for one of those. A piss-poor camera, terrible speed-challenges and unappealing style choices. There are small homages to previous games, but even those aren’t enough to make me want to play this again.
  5. Kingpin. The idea is fine, but the execution (no pun intended) is terrible. Characters who have joined you wander off in important shoot-outs, exploding barrels crash the game, there are solid walls you can walk through and the music is awful. The exact opposite of GTA.

Comic-Books.

  1. The Spider-Man Clone Saga. This felt like it ran on and on for nearly a decade, but it only ran for a couple of years. I was surprised that the storyline didn’t kill the title off, but it appears other people are willing to shell out cash on never-ending torment. Worse than One More Day
  2. Archie Meets The Punisher. This might have passed under your radar, but it did happen. Unfortunately. With a dumb plot, awkward art and one of the most unlikeable characters in comics (uh… Archie, obviously), this is a safe bet as one of the worst comics ever.
  3. Anything by Rob Liefeld. It’s a cheat, adding the entire output of an individual into a list like this, but the man has no talent whatsoever. Consider this free advice for any wannabe comic-book artists – Learn anatomy. To think I wasted so much money on his books, hoping he would improve…
  4. Comics Greatest World. Dark Horse rarely stumbles so badly as they did with their first attempt at a superhero universe. Never has a character been so aptly named as Hero Zero, and the majority of the other characters are equally as lame. That Barb Wire was the most successful title really says a lot about the idea. Read Ghost and X, ignore the rest.
  5. Extreme Justice? Extremely unreadable would be more appropriate. All the reasons JLA (and variations thereof) are fun to read is stripped away from the setup, and we’re left with a bunch of angry and unlikeable characters who are badly written.

There you go… Fifteen things to avoid.

Agreements, disagreements or rants are welcome.

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Is Smoking Really So Evil?

Posted by BigWords on July 27, 2009

If you have been paying attention to public opinion, then you should be aware that smokers have now overtaken child abusers, terrorists, murderers and politicians as the most despicable wretches on the planet. Yup, we’re being vilified again, and the venom spewing forth is starting to be taken seriously by otherwise-intelligent people. What’s the hell is wrong with the world? Jeez… It isn’t as if I’m toking away on grass, y’know. Well, not right at this moment-

The poster for Audrey Tautou’s new film, in which she portrays Coco Chanel, has been ‘modified’ (read: bastardized) to take the cigarette out of her hand. Because, if you follow the logic of the health zealots, non-smokers will see the image and be overcome with the irresistible urge to light up a cigarette. The stupid and petty antics to which the anti-nicotine agenda will stoop truly knows no limits.

If things continue at the pace they seem to be going, then smoking will be completely outlawed in Britain by the end of the next decade. By which time I will have left, because I ain’t giving up my passtimes without a damn good reason. I know all about the health risks involved with smoking, and I have seen the gruesome pictures now displayed on cigarette packs, but the fact that I haven’t yet packed in smoking must tell you something, right?

IT IS A CHOICE.

It is a conscious decision, and one which I willingly take. If we stand back and allow the Nazi-like determination of the New Labour camp to outlaw smoking, what will be next on their list? Alcohol? Driving petrol vehicles? Swearing?

Don’t think that the idiots in charge of the asylum have any better idea than the rest of us. They are stumbling around in the dark, just like we are, only I have an advantage…

I’ll see where I’m going by the glow from the end of my cigarette.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane (7 yrs old)

Posted by BigWords on July 27, 2009

It is time once more for me to take a little walk down memory lane. This is a fairly brisk run, rather than a leisurely stroll, ’cause I have a destination in mind. There isn’t time to look down the seedy side alleys or stop off at one of my lost weekends. I might drop back in on the events of 1992 when I can remember the details, but today is a little farther back.

I was maybe seven or eight years old, and in Broadstairs, in the South of England. The sun always seemed to shine slightly brighter down there, and the ice cream was always soft and sugary sweet. The small cinema on the street leading down to the beach smelled of piss and roll-ups, and the amusements weren’t going to close down for a good few years.

This was before the area lost a little of its’ sparkle, and I was young enough to blissfully ignore the worse aspects of the area.

It began as most days over that long hot summer began, with my demands that I get to wander aimlessly around the few shops the town held. There wasn’t a high street as such, rather a few streets of shops congregated around the streets behind the boardwalk, but that was enough for me.

Somehow, for reasons that are no longer apparent to me, I found myself wandering from the shops to the beach. I’m not a beach person, and sand has never held the allure of a good book store. In all honesty, I would have rather spent time in the library than take time to see what the hell was going on at the beach.

I haven’t been back in years, so I don’t know if the giant (and redundant) bouncy castle is still a fixture of the beach, but it always bothered me. Why the hell would a sane person willingly make themselves sick by bouncing aimlessly on the spot, especially when Charles Dickens’ house was so close?

Or they could take five minutes to get to the Ramsgate motor museum, with an array of vehicles which would give Jeremy Clarkson an erection? The Calcott alone was worth the interminable and mind-numbingly awful train journey South. But the fucking beach?

And I was on the beach.

The morning was probably giving way to afternoon, because the it was crowded. In the following years it became less crowded, and shops closed, buildings began looking tired… Back then the place was a giant playground, built for my enjoyment, where I could run around unseen amongst the throngs of Italian, French, Spanish and German students. The locals didn’t care who I was, as long as I spoke perfect English.

It was where I cultivated my Kentish accent, which I still use when needed.

But back to the beach…

There was a van parked on the small brick pier, next to a diffused mine which had been converted into a charity box. There were people milling around, and children being helped out the back of the van. A ramp which raised and lowered at the press of a button was used to move those who remained seated through the process. I waited until they had disembarked before approaching.

It didn’t occur to me until later that the few who remained seated did so because they had no option other than to do so. I don’t see disabilities. Same as I don’t see color. Well… Apart from all the fucking crackers who pretend to be black, and I only notice those assholes because they have no style. Seriously people, shellsuits and gold chains? Gimme a break.

The locals didn’t seem too happy at the kids being brought to their beach, and mostly they looked away, or stared, or glared with the same intensity they would use if someone had dropped trowel and shat on the beach. But not me, and my ignorant-of-social-convention mind. I walked up and said ‘Hi’ to the kids.

Fuck it, they were just like me. So what if they weren’t as smart? Or couldn’t walk? Or had a difficult time talking. Kids are kids. The adults sitting on the benches smoked, talked amongst themselves and did their damnedest to ignore the fact that there were disabled people in their midst, as if pretending they weren’t there would somehow – magically – make them disappear.

I’m taking this time-out to remind people that yes, shock-horror, disabled people do exist. The smart folks already know this, of course, but the world likes to ignore the problems it can’t solve with drugs, or therapy or some other fix. Some people are going out of their way to make a small difference in the lives of these people. I’m afraid to say that I, much as I would like to, can’t join in the more strenuous activities. The AW’s own Kitty Pryde (Sarah Heacox) is riding the Peak-To-Peak Pedal again: 335 miles by bike to raise money for outdoor recreation for people with disabilities! Christ, that would be the death of me…

You don’t want to see me turn blue after a couple of hours of walking or riding a bicycle. With the nicotine and alcohol consumption of a true writer, there is no way I could get to the finish line of a sponsored walk. I salute everyone who is making the effort, and always (gladly) fish in my pockets for any spare change when a bucket is thrust in my direction by someone in a comedy outfit. A walk, on the other hand, is beyond by ability.

If you want to give to charities, there are plenty who need your (our) support.

The United States Adaptive Recreation Center is one you should help; there is a list of charities for the benefit of disabled children here; Disabled Charity is a doorway site with links to many worthwhile charities, both in the UK and worldwide, somewhat similar to Disability UK; and not forgetting Action For Kids or Mencap.

Feel free to link to other worthwhile charities benefiting disabled individuals in your comments, as well as any other good causes which deserve more attention. The more the merrier.

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How Far Is Going Too Far Anyway?

Posted by BigWords on July 26, 2009

There is a lot of chatter about “unsuitable topics” for novels, short stories, films, television scripts and computer games, though I don’t see how a person can get upset about fiction. What is more important, the story or the writer? You can’t divide the two if there are boundaries caused by the misconception of ‘good taste’, which is a chickenshit way of saying “I’m scared of touching this subject.” Good taste has ruined more books than any other fallacy save for ‘morality’. There are no guidelines, and everyone sits somewhere different on the sliding scale.

In fiction (remember: FICTION) there are no boundaries. Everything, if there is sufficient reason and rationale, should be included in the writer’s arsenal. By shying away from something we give in to the censors, and the religious extremists, and the bigots, and the morons who don’t understand that fiction is make-believe. If I want a talking gorilla to take a chainsaw to a mafia boss in a homage to Scarface, then I’m gonna write the scene. Try and stop me.

But it’s still make-believe. There’s no way a talking gorilla would use a chainsaw in real life, ’cause they prefer katanas.

The subjects which seem to crop up time and time again normally involve cruelty to animals, ‘bad language’ (which doesn’t really exist, but I digress…), murder, rape and racism. Which goes some way to stripping novels of any suspense, drama or intrigue. There are few subjects I would willingly run away from, mainly for one reason-

If a story doesn’t make you think, then it isn’t worth considering.

I’ll go one step further, and state that the hardest subjects to write are often the most involving. Don’t confuse the actual circumstances with the fictions about them, because that way leads to confusion.

Arguments may now begin…

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Trying To Ignore The Elephant In The Corner Of The Room

Posted by BigWords on July 25, 2009

When you absolutely, positively, under any circumstances can not ignore something any longer, the right thing to do is bring it up, right? Because ignoring the obvious is stupid…

Or you would think.

I made a comment, off the cuff and without thinking about the ramifications, concerning a rather ugly painting. I’ve been in Simon’s* house before, but I’ve never noticed just how goddamn ugly his taste in art has been. So the comment:

Did you lose a bet or something?

I point to the picture, a crude oil painting of a house that looked like the home of a serial killer. He shuffles on the spot for a moment then tells me that it was painted by his father in law. I compound my error by asking him if his father in law hates him.

Yes, there are limits to how long people will put up with me.

* Not his real name. I can be subtle somtimes…

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