Monday, 31 October 2011

Writing: The Home Front

A family that plays together, stays together.

A couple that writes together... Needs a few ground rules.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Juicing up scenes

Do you want to write screenplays?  Do your attempts look flat and lifeless on the page?  Does it seem like forever for the story to get started?  Part of the problem may be your scenes.  They aren't just bland building blocks that you stack up to make a story.  Think of them as little stories in themselves with their own conflicts and dramatic arches.

To see what we mean, check out SciptShadow's article, 10 Ways To Juice Up A Scene.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

The sad irony of pictures is that they always remain young while we grow old.  Wouldn't be better if it was the other way around?  That our portrait should age and wither and bear the mark of our sins and vices while we continue youthful and unblemished is an interesting, though shallow idea.  For Dorian Gray, wealthy member of Victorian London society, it becomes reality owing to a grotesque wish. He becomes a man who never ages and no matter what he indulges in, his face and body always remained as unlined as unscarred as an innocent young man on the doorstep of life.   His portrait, on the other hand, must be kept hidden away from human view because it becomes a testament to the awful state of Dorian's soul

An author often places himself, or at least part of himself, in his works and it's interesting to speculate on whether, how much and into whom Oscar Wilde placed himself in this novel.  It would be very easy to dismiss this book as some sort of veiled autobiography or self-portrait of Wilde just as it would to slap the label "horror fiction" on it and leave it at that.  In fact, Dorian Gray is a complex work that often vanishes under Wilde's premise and his tendency to lumber the text with far too many artistic airs and self-indulgent passages that come across as mere word play.

Dorian Gray is more than a bogey story about an ageless youth or one about a bohemian who hides behind a mask of respectability.  Dorian is more than a mere rack.  He is a man who at a very young age falls under the sway of Sir Henry Wooton; a cynic with a gift for epigrams who covers his utter disdain for the human race with an unending stream of provocative, yet utterly vacuous remarks.  Most people quite rightly dismiss him as an upper class ass, but Dorian takes him seriously and Sir Henry delights in having a protégée whom he can lead astray.  Dorian, on the other hand, thinks he's found a philosophy of life and soon becomes an epicurean of the most extreme liver who embraces a life dedicated to pure sensation and personal fulfilment. Some of this takes the form of artistic extravagances of collecting jewels or studying tapestry.  Others are indulgences of the most hideous vices and low corruption.  And over all of this is a complete self-centredness; the "individuality of sin" that Wilde points out is it chief attraction.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Dorian is eventually revealed as having lost any sort of moral compass.  He spurns a young actress to the point of suicide because she gave a sub-standard performance as if she were a toy that had ceased to please.   He is forever accepting emotional or moral aid from people, yet has none to give in return as he uses or corrupts those around him.  Even when he tries to reform, it is merely another self-indulgence and posturing for effect.  He is, in other words, a man whose face hasn't just remained young.  He is a person who has never and can never mature.  He is C S Lewis's good egg that never hatches, so it must go bad.  In that way, The Picture of Dorian Gray rises comfortably to the level of literature by dealing with a universal about sin and redemption that sits as uncomfortably with the faculty of a modern English Lit faculty as innocence did with Sir Henry and Dorian.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Monday, 17 October 2011

Slipstreaming away

Image source: Deviantart
One of the fascinating contortion acts of our time is when writers who pen science fiction stories but don't want to be labelled as science fiction writers try to explain that they don't "really" write science fiction.  Instead, they say that they write "speculative fiction" or they "slipstream" or they use some other dodge that involves so convoluted that Treasure Island could be called sci fi.

It's a futile exercise, since if one defines science fiction as a subgenre of fantasy that uses science and technology to provide an air of verisimilitude, then no matter how hard you try, the slipstream is still sci fi.  Now, you can argue that your book may be science fiction by definition and not by description, but that's another thing entirely.  Science fiction is a genre, which means that it is inward looking and seeks to provoke a reaction rather than a response in the reader.  It has many conventions, jargon and so on that the reader expects and it is in its essence a mixture of the Gothic and adventure fiction.  However, Atwood (whose intellectual powers I've always found wanting) is wrong to claim that science fiction requires explanations and since she doesn't explain, she isn't doing science fiction.  There are many examples of solidly science fiction stories that don't provide neat explanations of how the scenario came about.  Even when an explanation is provided, it is often a way of establishing the credibility of the plot.  Having read Atwood's novels, it would be fairer to say what she does isn't "slipstream", it's sloppiness wrapped into pretension.

At the end of the day, she is a mediocre sci fi writer who tries to gain the status of literature by flying under false colours.  Sorry, Miss Atwood, you are no Orwell.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

If science fiction is your metier, you might want to look at this; The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is now available on line.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Review: Asimov's Mysteries

Asimov's Mysteries by Isaac Asimov (1968)

Isaac Asimov may be best known as a science fiction and popular science writer, but he liked to wander out into other literary fields from time to time–often ones that he wasn't very good at.  The mystery genre had obvious attractions for Asimov with its puzzles and simple prose conventions very similar to science fiction and from time to time he'd put aside his robots and psychohistorians, pick up his magnifying glass, and try to craft a whodunnit.

Asimov's Mysteries is a collection of 14 mystery short stories penned by Asimov between 1939 and 1967.  They're a mixed bunch.  Ostensibly an anthology of science fiction mysteries, some are not mysteries, some are not science fiction, some are straight mysteries pretending to be science fiction, and some are just extended jokes.  In other words, it's about as consistent as any later anthology of Asimov made up of stories written over three decades.

Most of the stories revolve around Dr Wendell Urth, an "extraterrologist" and extreme agoraphobic who never leaves his flat and is obviously Asimov's attempt at reinventing Rex Stout's homebody detective, Nero Wolfe. As is usual in the mystery story, the plots revolve around puzzles of murder with one red herring thrown in and, save in one case that isn't a mystery, a neat solution at the end.  As is typical with Asimov, the mysteries are generally logic problems which he dresses up with grander science fiction ideas that are really overstuffed McGuffins played out by flat characters who never develop any individuality, much less anything more profound.

It's all very fluffy stuff and wouldn't matter except for Asimov's maddening dislike for rewriting that leaves his stories sloppy and filled with all sorts of holes that he gets away with only because they never occur to him in the first place.  Asimov never grasped that a successful story needs to be not just a logic puzzle, but a logical story that needs to be honed and polished until the conclusion is inevitable from a dramatic point of view as well as from the crossword puzzle point of view.  What a sci fi story can forgive, the mystery cannot, which just goes to show that mixing two genres is more than mixing tropes, but rather of adapting one genre to the demands of another.

That's one mystery that Dr Asimov never solved.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Writing in the digital age

The Frankfurt Book Fair opens today and in the era of the ebook authors must come to grips with a changing industry responding to changing technology.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Monday, 10 October 2011

Friday, 7 October 2011

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Self-publishing perils

Thinking about self-publishing?  With e-books and publishing on demand, there's never been a better time to get around the gatekeepers of the big publishing houses, but it isn't all beer and skittles. If you're publishing your own work, you're responsible for all the artwork, editing, formatting and all the other grunt work that the publisher traditionally handles.

Look out for these signs of a badly done job of self-publishing.  If your book looks like this, you're in trouble.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Do you drink only Nescafe?  Eat only minute steak?  Prefer minute mysteries because two-minute mysteries are too long?   Then Book-a-Minute is for you. Here, for example, are the collected works of Isaac Asimov:
Stock Asimov Character #1 
I'm a suave, witty, brilliant, good-looking scientist. I am everything Asimov thought he was. 
Stock Asimov Character #2 
I am the same, except the opposite sex. 
Stock Asimov Character #1 
Great! Let's do some science stuff, save the world, and make out. 
(They do.)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: The World According to Clarkson

The World According to Clarkson by Jeremy Clarkson (2004)

Jeremy Clarkson's columns fall into two categories:  The car-centric ones, which are very entertaining, but a hard slog because you need to be up on every obscure marque of the past half century; and his non-automotive ones, which are a much faster read.  This collection of Clarkson's columns from 2001 to 2004 introduces us to his views on town centres (determined to drive out motor cars at the expense of everything else), holidays (mind-numbing periods of boredom destined to cause household destruction), Concorde (the last great thing that Britain produced), and gardening (proof that middle age has arrived).  In between we're treated to Clarkson's war with a fox, the time he unsuccessfully participated in an army assault, and why juries are scarier than criminals.

Clarkson's appeal lies in a light, humourous style matched with an outspoken attitude that regards political correctness as a challenge.  Despite having very definite opinions, he also has a wide streak of self-deprecation that makes for a good leavening.  The fast pace of his style is also helped by the public persona that he's cultivated over the past thirty years that allows him to voice his views as that of a bewildered, ham-fisted petrol head, though if you listen carefully sometimes the mask slips and a much more thoughtful and widely read man is revealed who simply never bought into the media heard instinct.

Be that as it may, stay well clear if he ever decides to take out a fox with a shot gun.