"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Saturday, 10 January 2009

I Against I

A response to the good things/ bad things writing meme as tagged by the good Sister Elinor.

The Meme’s brief: “When it comes to writing, what do you know you’re good at, and what aspect of writing are you worst at? (Procrastination is not permitted as either part of the answer.)”

This is one of the harder memes to answer accurately because I am possibly the least self-aware person on the face of the planet- especially when it comes to my writing.

Thankfully I don’t procrastinate... I worry... but that’s usually after the event. However, even without procrastination I am very slow at the writing- at the start through caution- I was brought up with the mantra from my Dad who was good at ‘building things from scratch’ that you should ‘always measure twice, cut once’. This has filtered through strongly to my approach to writing- I do lot of pre-planning and try and get the drafts quite right from the off (which is, of course, delusional and impossible). Once done there emerges an obsessive perfectionism that requires everything to be absolutely correct. And on top of that I never know whether the result is any damn good- even now I still suspect that the Red Planet people may have got the wrong person...

So, with this in mind, I have based the good points list on the things that seem to have been regularly praised over time in various reports:

• Apparently my characters are quite interesting, compelling and well-rounded;
• Apparently my dialogue tends to be quite good- probably because I read it out loud using a variety of funny voices;
• Apparently I’m quite good at conjuring atmosphere with nifty settings and visual description that immerses people in the world of the story;
• Apparently it’s seen as quite a good thing that I have themes, ideas and something to say- which seems to be considered a plus point.

Now, the bad points (which I can do all by myself!):

• I take scenes and ideas in isolation whether from dreams, flashes of inspiration or whatever and this can lead to a fragmentary narrative;
• I am very good at over-plotting- I haven’t yet realized how little plot there is needed in the average film;
• I am appallingly bad at structure;
• I overwrite enormously- massive chunks of unnecessary description- never use one good word when fifty superfluous ones can be used- however I have now bought a red pen!
• Endings- I can really screw up an ending- sometimes something good comes to me but mainly it doesn’t. This is in part based on my dislike of the tendency of films to end with violent outbursts which, besides reinforcing notions that ‘might is right’* and that the person who is strongest is entitled to ideological supremacy, I find lazy and easy. I call it ‘Schrader syndrome’: how to damage an otherwise good film by not knowing how to end it and resorting to a convenient fire-fight (cf: Light Sleeper; Hardcore, etc.).

I’m overly self-critical and don’t know when something is actually finished- I’ve actually started just asking other people.

Then there are some areas of which I have no idea either way... as roughly everything I do is roughly within a genre and set in recognizable places I do wonder to what extent what I write might be considered ‘original’. Not helped by my having watched far too much film and television... from which I may have accidentally absorbed and subsequently used devices.

So there you go, hope that fits the brief without being too revealing. I’ll probably re-read this in twelve months time and disagree completely but at least I’ve got room for improvement- no resting on my laurels- and most of the problems areas fall under the heading of practice and technique.

If there’s anyone left out there who’s feeling untagged and left out... well, you know who you are and you know what to do!

*with the honorary exception of World War Two- see Theo’s speech in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp for the best explanation of why.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Scarlet & Other Stories

On going absent without leave, computers, eyes, recent developments and an important request- rather long but please bear with me...

First, I hope you all had a good Christmas and I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

It occurred to me that it would probably be polite to start the new year by explaining why things tailed off during the last.

The last you may have heard I’d sent in a selection of random script pages to Red Planet and was pacing more nervously than a prospective father during the 96th hour of labour. Except I’d all but decided not to bother completing the complete draft having decided the first ten pages I’d written were drivel. Thankfully, I had the sense to thrust them upon a sentient being who said these were quite good so ‘write the rest’. So I did. The first draft needed to be properly storylined then clocked in at around 100 pages and was done in a couple of weeks. Then I sliced and diced until it was a more appropriate length. If I remember correctly this was dealt with by the beginning of November. While I’d written something rather poor it was still fortuitous, so it turned out, to have a completed draft...

Do you know what a ‘backlight’ is? Neither did I. It’s the thing that makes the pretty pictures appear on a laptop screen. When it dies the computer dies: it is not economically viable to repair. And thus my faithful old Toshiba started to die after 6 years loyal service while I was writing the RPP piece. Unfortunately, within a day of completing, and just before I was about to back it up and check all the most important files were also, the hard-drive imploded. So, I had to find a new laptop and hope that I could get all my data recovered including the just completed script. A new laptop was relatively easy to acquire (they sell them in something called ‘shops’), the data recovery was tough going as the hard-drive was hard to access (but apparently I only lost 14 files and I still haven’t worked out what) but the hardest thing was getting back online as apparently the drivers needed for this (and practically all other things) change by the day. And have to be downloaded. And how do you download the drivers for internet access when you haven’t got internet access?

The new laptop has taken some getting used to because at some point since buying the Toshiba they decided to change where most of the keys were and made them a lot smaller (or closer together) and the screens are now a lot wider... apparently for no other reason than so America can have two pages on screen at once... and what America wants we all get. I thought it was just to annoy me!

When I got back up, running and online in late November I discovered in a somewhat well-stuffed inbox the telegraph from Red Planet telling me that they too rather liked the play what I wrote. I was rather pleased. As it had arrived nearly a week before I was very concerned that I might have missed the next deadline- and still don’t know- and had to hurriedly go through the somewhat rough, full script making sure that it had not been ‘corrupted’. That got sent off and now I’m back to pacing in the aforementioned corridor. Of course, I’ve since realized quite how ropey the script is and have already set about a comprehensive ground-up rewrite.

The Problem
The new laptop didn’t just require adjustment to new hardware but also to new software- Vista doesn’t ever do as it’s told- I change the settings, it decides I’m wrong and changes them back again; Word 2007 is shockingly bad and I’m hunting down Word 2005 or earlier (I can’t find anybody who actually likes or uses 2007)- but these are things you can get used to... even if you don’t want to!

Now, for several years I have feared that I have been slowly glowing blind but, as I’m very squeamish when it comes to eyes, I’ve put off doing anything about it just in case there was something wrong. The new machine has a wide shiny LCD screen that has a brilliant burning intensity. I’d always turned the screen brightness down on the old matt-screened Toshiba but turn the new one down to the right level for me and it turns into a very good mirror. Turn the screen up and it feels like I’m staring into a light-bulb. In the first month of use I was finding it harder and harder to see- and using the machine less and less- I was left unable to focus my eyes, things were very blurred, over-bright and my eyes hurt and strained constantly. But this only happened after computer usage. Finally (presumably this is the approach to the innermost cave), I bit the bullet and went to the optimist optometrist.

Several years of worry have been assuaged- I am not going blind. In fact it turns out I have very good eyesight, both near and far, and good peripheral vision to boot. However, although the lady didn’t give it a name, I seem to have some form of Photophobia which hadn’t previously been a issue. Thankfully, it’s not severe but apparently is irreparable. I think I know where it’s arisen from though I’ll probably never be certain. In hindsight it has explained a few things including why I’ve been dreading the ban on incandescent light-bulbs as I have found the fluorescent bulbs quite painful. What I really need now is a screenguard for the laptop which is proving impossible to find- everybody says they exist nobody knows in which mythical land. If you know somewhere I can get a laptop screenguard please get in touch as a matter of urgency.

In the meantime, I’m trying not to spend so long at the machine and I write everything in detailed notes on paper (like I always used to) and just type it up so it’s a good job my typing speed is half-way decent. So you’ll have to forgive me if I spend less time online.

Other Stuff
The most unexpected thing I realized while I was computerless was how little I missed the internet- and how little I really used it for- email and eBay primarily. The loss was more irritating than devastating. I didn’t use these iPlayer type things- why watch TV in pixelated form on a small screen when I can watch it on TV? I’ve never played computer games- online or offline- life’s too short already. I just went back to music, reading, watching and terrorizing the cats with my own inimitable brand of terrible guitar playing. Being unable to type was a nuisance but I’ve always done a lot on paper anyway. The other thing I hadn’t realized until I stopped was how deeply tired I was. Maybe sometimes people need a bit of a break.

...and in the meantime, I appear to have acquired some followers. Which is strange, new and unexpected. This wasn’t there when I was last about. What’s it all about? Do I have to do anything? Should I reciprocate? When I get 12 followers I’m going to start a religion- I already have good recipe for loaves and fishes... well... pilchards on toast. And now I must be thinking about a meme- and rather a difficult one I suspect...

Saturday, 3 January 2009


*****contains spoilers for new Doctor Who*****

So, now we all* know that the new Doctor Who is... er...

Matt Smith...

...very young at 26 ...and rather needs a haircut!

Personally my choice was...

Adrian Lester

...but what do I know?

*except those who don't care, have a life and/or don't obsessively watch TV.

Someday we'll be drinking with...