Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Incredible stretchy pants

Is it possible to create something that combines all four aspects of character, plot, action and detail? I suspect we all set out to do all four but, somewhere down the line, we start to major on one or two of these at the expense of the others. Probably not on purpose, but we focus on the bits that interest us most. I started this train of thought just after going to see the Avengers movie. Visually impressive, if a little intense. Plot? Not really. Action, most certainly. Characterisation? Well they tried. Captain America was uptight and upright. Bruce Banner and the Iron Man guy were meant to be geeky and the Black Widow was meant to be a hard edged spy and assassin (no, there's none of her DNA in Echo). So, a good idea but,actually, they were all completely out-acted by the Hulk, who was a cartoon and had the best line in the whole film. And the most remarkable trousers. I know I'm a writer rather than a film director but, as I've said before, I'm just writing down details of the film that's playing in my head. I'm curious to know if other writers are the same. So, trying to be objective, can I manage all four of those things? No Character - I have two main characters who I think are reasonably interesting and feedback, particularly about Echo, has been reasonably positive. The others are mostly cardboard cut outs although I'm trying to make a few of them three dimensional so that you'll care about the one(s)who die. Plot - well there's a few large holes in the plot of Echo. Some of them are there on purpose as I've been intending to fill them in E2, or possibly in E3. The broad outline is in my head and I actually wrote it down in some detail when writing Echo although stuff changed as I wrote, when I had to follow the characters rather than forcing them to obey the plan. My intentions for E2 have changed recently. I'm on chapter 6 and, by now, we should have moved into Vargrr space and we should be well on our way to finding the Clarke. But the crew of the citadel are trapped on the cruiser Admiral Stobo and trying to fight their way out. The plot of E2 was set in motion in Echo and I think it will be a simpler story that the first, although I do have a few loose ends to sort out and so it may become more complex. Action - there was action in Echo, but I'm starting to see that E2 is probably going to have more action than E1. Echo was mostly about the relationship between two people. E2 details the breakdown of that relationship (temporary or permanent, I'm not saying -partly because I haven't decided). Detail - as I've said before, I think my job is to create a framework and for the reader to create their own film. I think i'll be majoring on action and characterisation. But I've been wrong before. It's an exciting ride. But enough about me, what does the reader want from me when they boot up their Kindle?And do they want the same thing every time? With books, I'm ALWAYS looking for the same thing. Reasonable plot but strong characterisation (and minimal description). I was about to say that films are different but I think I'd be wrong. I went to see the Avengers movie not because of the film but because I wanted to have some Dad and boys time. We bought fizzy and sweeties and had a laugh at the jokes (the boys seemed to be pretty indifferent to Gwyneth Paltrow, but then they're 13 and haven't quite got girls yet) Star Wars, my all time favourite film is still visually stunning and all the more impressive considering the limited technology but, if I was going to be objective, could have been so much more. It's easy to forget how dark a film it is. Luke's uncle and aunt are reduced to smoking skeletons, Obi Wan chops off somebody's arm in a bar fight, a whole planet is destroyed and Han Solo fired first. But that level of menace isn't sustained, Luke is transformed into ace pilot and Han into a good guy. I hear the original version was panned by audiences and only drastic editing saved it from being scrapped. Partly I wonder whether a director's cut would be a good thing or whether Biggs Darklighter, a major character who was completely cut from the final version, is better as a pub trivia question. Look at what happened when George Lucas finally got the technology to create the film he really wanted. Did he beef up the characters or add meaty plot? No, he just coloured it in. Enough on star wars. Alien. Plot. Not really. Detail- dark, greasy, grim. Characters? Ripley develops well but the others are basically just there to make up numbers. Action- absolutely, and the scariest film I've seen I'd argue that nobody does everything well and great things have been created by focussing on one or two parts rather than trying to do the lot. Overanalysing is probably not a good thing. Will it make my book better? Probably not. Will it make it less fun? It might. Despite it being an old question, I did spend part of the Avengers thinking about how come the Hulk, who was massively too big for Bruce Banner's jeans wasn't naked but, when he turned back, Bruce Banner, who fit the jeans, was.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Colouring book

When I write, I can see the action in my mind. I picture the camera angles and can hear the explosions or klaxons or whatever. As well as whatever's in focus, I also have a fairly clear idea what the room or compartment or whatever looks like. However , I don't inflict a detailed description on the readers unless it's relevant. I did it in Ch 1 of Echo because I wanted to get across the impression that starships were battered, workaday, grubby tools like the Nostromo rather than the clean and shiny world of Star Trek. As a writer, I want to create the broad outlines and then allow the reader to colour the picture in. Your camera angle may be completely different to mine, and the characters are likely to look completely different in your head to what's in mine. I described Echo as having jaw length, bobbed hair and green eyes. That was it. It wasn't till Cathy Helms did the cover art that she became a brunette (and acquired a trout pout). One of the first readers thought the Bad Girls were 7 feet tall (they're not, but they can be if you want) and, if you were paying attention, you may know that Acre is blond and has her hair plaited into cornrows, Pearce is tall and thin, and I may have told you that Hemingray is small and has a blond bubble perm. However, if you want them to look different, that's fine. Some writers want to transfer the cinematic experience that's in their head into yours without allowing the freedom to interpret it as you see fit. Have a look at this: Jason Bourne eeled his way through the mob. He was assaulted by the bone-juddering, heart attack inducing, soul-shattering blast of music coming from ten-foot-tall speakers set on either end of the enormous dance floor. Above the dancers' heads an aurora boreal is of lights splintered, coalesced, and then shattered against the domed ceiling like an armada of comets and shooting stars. That was taken from one of the posthumous Jason Bourne novels. It's a 100,000 word adventure wrapped in a 200,000 word book. Part of the problem is that Jason himself isn't very interesting. I've read several of the Ludlum and post Ludlum versions and, unlike say James Bond, it's quite difficult to get a handle on the man himself. I enjoyed the three Bourne films with Matthew Damon. Not for their portrayal of Jason Bourne, but for the way they handled crises and action scenes. The realism used in the Bourne films was taken up by the Daniel Craig version of Bond. Violence is brutal and ugly rather than stylised or glamourous. Part of Echo's (genetically engineered) DNA came from the Jason Bourne. Another DNA donor is Jack Reacher. He's a much more interesting character although I've never really warmed to him as a person (if you see what I mean) which is no mean feat in itself. I like the way that we see Reacher's process of deduction and I particularly like the way he previsualised a fight. I forget which book it's in but, at one point he's faced with three men and it described, succinctly but effectively, which one he's going to batter first, how he's going to do it and why he's made those choices. So, Bourne is a boring cardboard cut out and Reacher is an interesting, if slightly unpleasant, character. I'd like to think that Echo is a reasonably interesting and sympathetic character and that's why I've had such positive feedback. It's difficult to judge the value of your own creation. In the next post I'll talk about whether you can have well drawn characters, strong plots and detailed description or whether something has to be compromised to create a book that works. Actually it's just an excuse to talk about Hulk underwear.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Cardboard cut out

Incedental characters are more difficult than I would have expected. Although most of Echo is set in the closed environment of a starship, on occassions the crew of the citadel class have to interact with other people. How detailed should those people be, given the fact that most of them have a limited life expectancy. Some of the incidentals have names, mainly because it's a fairly natural thing to introduce yourself to people, but also because it's easier to write Joe Bloggs said, rather than the man in the raincoat said, over and over again. But, once they have a name, do i have a responsibility to make then slightly more real? No, of course not. Is it helpful to round them out a bit? I don't really know. When writing Echo I asked one of the First Readers how individual I should make the Bad Girls and they said they were disposable cannon fodder rather than main characters. Shame as I quite like them, probably more than some of the other main characters and might struggle if some of them don't get to survive E2? Just to make life more difficult, I'm writing several real people into E2. How many words should they get? Professor Helms, genetic engineer is in chapter 4 although I'm not sure I've got the voice right. There's a conversation with Echo which gets interrupted - considering she got a couple of pages, is it going to be weird when she just disappears? However that will be difficult as she doesn't survive past chapter 8. Sorry Cat. On a complete aside, am I the only person who noticed that a minor character in the first series of 24 caused the crash of a jumbo jet (for a reason that I never really figured out) and the fate of the jumbo never gets another mention? On another complete aside, I'm writing this on my new iPad :-)