The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘plot’

The Writer’s Problem

Posted by BigWords on December 12, 2009

Most (if not all) writers would like to think they are able to conjure the unlikeliest of outlandish plots, dialogue and artifacts, and then insert them into their work so well as to obscure the ridiculous nature of such things. But… Real life (as is always the case) is stranger then any fiction. There are very good reasons why the phrase “You couldn’t make it up” exists. No matter how strange the things we invent an industrious idiot will have managed to do it first. We’re always at least three or four steps behind the wave of monstrous stupidity which is unique to our species. You only ever have to remember one thing when you are trying to weave fiction that is believable:

It’s already been done.

Not only has it been done, it’s probably been done a few times. Pulling a Stretch Armstrong doll until it bursts? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Wow, a bit behind the times, aren’t you. Checking to see if the room really is too small to swing a cat? Don’t even think about it…

Some of my favorite books are non-fiction, but they read like fiction. They contain the stuff that would make great storytelling if it wasn’t for the annoying fact that they were real. Take a look at the Darwin Awards if you think a plot twist (which sends a character to an untimely end) is too far-fetched. Whatever the means for dispatching a character, there is someone who has shuffled off this mortal coil in a similar manner. The awards are a litmus test for any OTT element wherein a character is killed in a manner that feels too outrageous to be believed. People can display incredible ingenuity in killing themselves.

Here’s a story from The Fortean Times Book Of More Strange Deaths which illustrates this point:

PASTOR Michael Davis, of the Larose Christian Fellowship Church in Louisiana, finished his sermon, stripped down to his bathing trunks, exhorted the faithful to prepare for rebirth and stepped into the pool where he intended to baptise a dozen of his flock. Unfortunately, his microphone was badly earthed; the resulting explosion left the pastor floating belly up and melted the microphone.

How can I compete with that?

And if you think that you would be safe making up a comedy epitaph to go on a gravestone in your story, you might want to take a look at some real ones out there. From Awful Ends: The British Museum Book Of Epitaphs by David M. Wilson:

Here lies the body of John Shine,
Who was no Jew for he ate swine;
He was no Papist for he had no merit;
He was no Quaker for he had no spirit;
For forty years he lived and lied,
For which God damned him as he died.

There’s nothing I could make up that would even come close…

And it continues through every other aspect of life. Coincidences? There was a story a while back about two guys who had worked their entire lives together finding out they were brothers. That would be laughed at in fiction, but in real life? It is treated as a feel-good story, regardless of how cliché it is. ‘Predictable’ is looked at so differently in fiction that I’m almost tempted to use the above as a continuation on my argument that real life isn’t represented properly in fiction.

If real life was to interrupt every aspect of fiction, then we would be writing soap operas rather than anything meaningful. Wait. Did I just insult everyone working in soap operas? Sorry. I meant to insult every soap opera except Dark Shadows, because at least that had an excuse.

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01000101 01001100 01001001 01010100 01000101

Posted by BigWords on October 23, 2009

Until I can come up with a title I don’t immediately hate, and I can’t seem to find something that doesn’t irritate me almost immediately, the name of my NaNo novel will be “01000101 01001100 01001001 01010100 01000101”. I fully expect to get some static from people over the use of binary as an acceptable title, maybe even a few pointed jokes, but there’s no way I can be expected to have a title straight away. I’m not joking about this, as you can see from my user page. Yes, I’m serious…

Sticking to the NaNo rules, I haven’t begun writing anything which I’ll use in the WIP, but I have begun sketching out the timeline of events. There’s probably eight (maybe nine) chapters of main story, a dozen major plot movements and six or seven main characters. Which goes some way to preparing for the trials of writing the story cold, but also highlights a few of the bad habits I have picked up in my other writing. I kinda like to go on a while… Developing character, doing a bit of world building, opening up the mythos…

Then stop. Bang. Dead in the water.

There are six places where I can open without causing massive amounts of confusion, and the natural opening all happen to have something BIG happening, but not to the exclusion of more powerful moments later on. The first draft will probably have all of these anyway – and not necessarily in the right order – but it is somewhat worrying that I can’t make up my mind which is the most powerful. It would be appreciated if you didn’t hold back while reading through the drafts as they go up. I don’t want to bore anyone, so feel free to holler ‘bullshit’ if I go off on a tangent, or have the mother of all plot-holes.

There’s gonna be a genocide (of sorts), a car bomb (or two), a Godfather II homage, a bit of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex philosophizing… I’ve even decided on using very, VERY geeky in-jokes which most people won’t even pick up. Or, at least I’m hoping some of the stuff I’m throwing into the mix is obscure. Anyone want to guess what an earworm is? Or a Dartmouth? Heh, heh, I’m getting so many of these “little bits of business” that I might let the plot sag a little, just so I can show off how clever I am.

Which is a bad thing.

Some of the things I have been pondering seem to have real-world parallels, so I’m not too fussed about getting everything right first time. Y’all should be able to tell what I’m intending to get at, even if I screw up the nuts and bolts as I’m working myself from A to B.

####

Here’s a (temporary) list of things which might appear, if I have enough time. I’m setting the bulk of the novel c.150 years into the future, so if anything seems… well, wrong, I’d appreciate you calling me on it before I waste any more time.

Pig Latin
Sentient robots
Flying cars
AI
Bureaucracy
Signal-jamming devices
“The Syndicate”*
Multi-level cities (four vertical lanes of traffic)
CCTV

*Yeah, I’m a big hardboiled crime fan, and the use of organized crime will be the lampshade for a bigger threat that makes them look like girl scouts… I can’t help but love the term.

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The Worst Films Ever Made? Not Quite…

Posted by BigWords on October 18, 2009

This morning I spent five or six hours browsing various forums in the hope that some ideas would miraculously come to me, but things have been quiet all over. Jeez, where is everyone? Some forums have become ghost towns these days, and I’m not just referring to small and underpopulated ones. In an effort to distract myself from the forthcoming apocalypse month of writing ahead of me, I decided it might be a good idea to watch a film.

There are plenty of DVDs to choose from, amongst a rapidly expanding collection of pretty much anything and everything, but I decided to stick with a couple of films I had remembered loving when I first bought them. Unfortunately I soon realized that my brain had filled in gaps and added scenes that weren’t in the films, polishing them up a bit and making them into classics of the low-budget bargain bin. Jeez, I should have known better than to trust my memories of them.

The Exterminator, a schlocky revenge movie with a very miscast Christopher George, seemed to be even cheaper than an Ass-ylum flick. I wanted to enjoy the ludicrous violence and stupid plot, but I simply couldn’t muster the energy to accept the obvious deficiencies. It was painful to watch the film, as I know that revenge movies can transcend the ghetto of low budget filmmaking. Maybe it was just because I wasn’t in the mood, maybe it was the poor transfer, but there is nothing to bring me back to the film again…

Though I kinda enjoyed Spontaneous Combustion, Tobe Hooper’s dumb pyrokinetic horror flick, I felt there was something missing. Brad Dourif, an actor who is no stranger to low budget films, is always watchable, but somehow looked like he wasn’t on top form. I’ve heard a lot of real hostility to the film expressed, and while I acknowledge that Hooper isn’t exactly the greatest director, the negativity people have for this film seems overkill. It isn’t bad. It isn’t great either, and that is the problem.

I’ve wasted most of the day on these films, and I still haven’t kicked off any ideas that might be of use for my NaNo.

Damn…

I even tried (re-)reading the awful-yet-hilarious Vittorio, yet Anne Rice’s most overblown and melodramatic novel is still to ridiculous to contemplate reading in the mood I’m in. Sixty pages is the most I have ever managed, but today I barely got past page twenty, which probably says more about my patience than it does about the book.

There isn’t even any decent television shows to keep me occupied while I try to tick away the days until I can begin to put words down for my New Idea… Though it would be kinda neat if I actually had a decent idea to go with the title of New Idea. Watching DVDs and (failing to) read books isn’t helping in the slightest, though I do have plenty of ideas as to what I’m gonna avoid like an ebola-infected chimpanzee. Today might not have been completely wasted, as there are still things to learn from bad stories.

There’s no point in playing with pseudoscience when I’m trying to make things easier on myself. Telekinesis (and the variations thereof) has a lot of problems that would need twisty-turny dialogue to explain. The revenge threads that have run through some of my previous stories is feeling rather used up, and I don’t think I have much more to say about that, so I’m now stumped as to the driving force which will propel a character (who hasn’t presented him or herself) through a world (which has yet to solidify) with some semblance of logic.

I’ll keep thinking on stories, and hopefully won’t have to resort to a collection of short stories for my NaNo.

####

If anyone is wondering what the worst film ever made is, and many people have valid suggestions as to that particular answer, I’ll give you five of what I consider the worst…

  1. Batman & Robin
  2. Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen
  3. Tank Girl
  4. Fantastic Four (Roger Corman)
  5. Howard The Duck

Feel free to argue amongst yourselves. I’m off to brainstorm…

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I Have A Cunning Plan…

Posted by BigWords on October 17, 2009

I’m still wandering from idea to idea without so much as an inkling of what my NaNo will be about, though the notion of adopting “dares” seems to be one which has real appeal. They will, of course, need a through-story to make sense of them, and a proper sense of time and place. Some ideas which are being bandied around sound really fun to tackle, and I may have to decide on a genre quickly if I’m gonna add more, but the following seem to have merit:

Have a character who kills people via txt-tlk.

Interesting, but it might be a bit of a hard sell.

Use as many AW user names as character names as you can.

Oh yeah, this one is gonna be interesting.

Make your characters play ‘The Game.’
BP if someone says, “I lost the game” at the climax.
DBP if the game is a plot point.

Maybe. I like the notion of an ARG being a plot point.

DARE: Use the words lubrication, moist, and intercourse in your novel

This… I kinda HAVE to do, don’t I?

DARE: Have a character say “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” to another character.

I like.

Include a character who makes constant references to the internet meme of your choice.
-BP if the internet doesn’t exist/hasn’t been invented yet in your world.
-DBP if no one questions this character until at least halfway through the story. That includes references to it in thoughts.
-TBP if the character ends up turning evil because his/her ways were questioned.
-QBP if they become the main villain.

Have a character who only says one line
BP if they say the line in every scene they’re in
Double BP if the line makes sense in the context of the scene
Triple BP if it turns out to be an important plot point

DARE: Have a belligerent robot.
BP: If he was programmed that way.
TBP: If the purpose of his creation was to drive the entire world insane.
QBP: If the programmer did this by accident, but was happy with the result.

Dare: Incorporate Vampire-Robot-Nazis who are also zombies into your plot.
BP if one Vampire-Robot-Nazi who is also a zombie says “You’ve just been Philed in.” after shooting somebody several times.

Damn… So many good bits of business to use, and I still – fucking pathetic, I know – have no plot. The one thing I have set my mind on is the fact that I’m exploiting the Friday the 13th date in the middle of November. That’s when all the nasty horror stuff will appear, though with the suggestions that I like from AW and the NaNo boards being more SF in nature… Yeah, this is gonna take some hard work to accomplish.

The geek in me loves the following:

Have one of your battles be an RPG battle, and record commands, damage taken, limit breaks, etc.
– BP if all your battles are like this
– DBP if at least one of your battles is a random encounter, with the monsters spawning literally out of nowhere

I might just do an entire novel set in the City Of Heroes game.

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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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