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A writer’s cheat

(Week 11: March 10-16)

This week I started writing some new material for the novella. Had a brief panic when I realised that the changes I mad to the scene I was working on last week would mean I had to rewrite a bunch of stuff earlier in the novella … then realised I wouldn’t after all, and all was good in the world.

For the new scenes I’m trying out a minor cheat. The previous chapter ends on a cliffhanger; the subsequent chapter starts sometime after the cliffhanger has been resolved (in other words, we get the resolution as a flashback). I’ve done this because there are a number of ways to get from A-Z, and covering every letter in order can eventually get tiresome for the reader.

It’s a bit of a gamble, and I may well end up having to go back and rewrite it, but it’s a trick I’ve seen working on TV shows before. Either way, if you don’t try these techniques out, you’ll never know.

Watching

It’s been a busy movie watching week this week, so strap in and let’s get going.

First off, I took the Elderbeast to see Captain Marvel this week. It was a fair no-brainer than we’d see it, but given the film’s reception from a certain subsection of weeping, spineless men, I thought it important that I take my son to see a movie that placed a female hero front and centre. There’s never a bad time for some positive reinforcement.

And the film was pretty damn good as well. While the first act was a little clunky in parts (but never less than enjoyable) there were some pretty clever narrative tricks at play throughout. I won’t spoil anything, but one thing I liked was how the film managed to be tell an origin story without being an origin story. (As I mentioned above, you don’t necessarily need to go from A-Z in order for people to be able to follow).

For Friday Horror we watched Bone Tomahawk. This was excellent! For the most part this was a superb western (seriously, the script is genius) which escalates dramatically in the final act into some of the most full-on gore and violence that I’ve ever seen. More western than horror, but filled with the callsigns of the horror genre. The most remarkable thing, for me, is how the horrific scenes towards the end don’t clash with the rest of the movie. This isn’t mere torture porn; rather, this is the violent culture clash that the rest of the movie has led us to expect, and which the main characters fatally underestimate.

On Saturday I finally watched Avatar. Yes, I had somehow managed to not watch it up until this week. While I hadn’t actively avoided it, I hadn’t been much inspired to watch it following the reviews. The film more or less lived up to my expectations: gorgeous visuals, and a strong, classic, if highly derivative, narrative. My assumption is that Cameron’s focus was on the technology needed for the film, along with the best way to showcase that visually, and it therefore made sense to ‘borrow’ a well established plot so he wouldn’t get mired in extensive plot issues and rewrites.

The revelation for me was how engaging Sam Worthington was. I was kind of expecting him to steal all the life from the movie, but he carried things along pretty well (with a lot of help from Zoe Saldana). I also loved Sigourney Weaver’s character; it’s great to see her playing up the more cynical aspects that her previous characters have hinted at, but still provide a strong moral backbone to the movie.

I’m honestly intrigued, now, to see where the *four* upcoming sequels go. I’m hoping that Cameron has found a story worth telling over four films, and that the now well-established tech will take a bit of a backseat. We’ll see.

Reading

In audiobook world I’ve decided to take a short break from Dracula. No comment on the quality: it’s a great story and an excellent adaptation; I just feel I’ve spent too long in its company. I really need to start choosing shorter audiobooks …

While I’m in between novels, I’ve picked up the Second Corona Book Of Horror Stories. This has only happened because I’m considering submitting a story to the Third Corona Book Of Horror and figured that some market research would be prudent. So far I’ve enjoyed all the stories I’ve read, although they have a curiously common tendency to either stop or drift off, rather than end properly.

I will provide a summary of highlights when I finish consuming this particular volume …


Back to the novella

(Week 10: March 3 – 9)

This week was marred by a second round of illness, but it was the sort of illness that meant I was up and about, just not office-safe. Consequently I was able to use some of the time to catch up on my writing.

I’ve now reached a section of the sci-fi novella that was earlier in the narrative in my first draft, but I’ve now decided to move to a later point. This means that I have words to edit once again, but that editing is substantial due to the reshuffling. There’s a lot of stuff that no longer makes sense now that it’s been moved.

This, to me, is the crux of editing: being prepared to throw your words out. There were a few mighty chunks that no longer made sense where they were, so they’ve gone. Occasionally there are bits worth keeping, but more often than not it’s better to drop them entirely and let your story flow naturally. Trying to shoehorn a few paragraphs into the wrong place just because you want to use every word you’ve written will almost always be to the detriment of your story.

And then I ended the week by closing out this particular editing session, which means I’m once again facing the blank page and entering a scary new section of the novella. Wish me luck.

Watching

Earlier in the week I wrapped up Russian Doll, which is the latest pure delight that Netflix has granted us. I can’t say too much about this without spoiling everything about it, so I’ll just share a few quick points. Firstly, Natasha McElhone is brilliant. I’ve not greatly warmed to her before now, but her performance here has totally won me over: it’s caustic, funny, and full of heart. There are moments of laugh out loud humour in this show (at least for me—and I love something that gets me physically laughing), but the end is overwhelmingly touching. Finally, I am, of course, inevitably, completely hooked on Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” now.

For Fridate horror we watched Splinter, which I only heard about after seeing it on Amazon Prime’s 50 Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen. I’m amazed there hasn’t been more buzz about this 2008 movie because it’s terrific. It’s more or less an eighties style high concept horror movie: four people trapped in a gas station by a mysterious parasite (though, the effects are definitely better than anything we had in the eighties). It’s short and punchy, has some good character work, some properly gory moments, and doesn’t overstay its welcome with needless exposition. There’s a nasty thing trying to kill people: that’s all we find out and all we need to know.

Saturday brought a repeat viewing of Solo, thanks to the film turning up on one of my streaming services. I came away from this second viewing with much the same thoughts as the first time around. Perhaps one new thought that struck me is how low the stakes are—at least in comparison to every other adventure we’ve shared in the Star Wars universe. That said, supposed low stakes are turned on their head right at the end when we find that Solo has inadvertently played a big role in kickstarting the rebellion.

In the end, there’s a good fun heist movie here that suffers a bit from having to carry the baggage of the Star Wars universe, while being further encumbered by workmanlike direction and some niggling structural flaws.

I genuinely hope Disney will find a way to bring these characters back—I particularly like Aiden Ehrenreich as Solo, and we can never have too much of Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando. But the less said about the huge character fail represented by Thandie Newton’s Val, the better.

Reading

This week I finished Fellside, which confirms that M.R.Carey is clearly one of my favourite authors given that this is the third book of his that I have all but torn through (unfortunately he has only released three novels so far; at least under this particular pen name).

This was a very different kind of tale than The Girl With All the Gifts and its prequel. I likened it to “Stephen King writing Orange Is The New Black”. It pivoted a few times over the first several chapters, and kept me guessing what kind of story it was going to end up being for a while there. There are also some good twists along the way. Unfortunately, the big final twist was telegraphed so far in advance that the only surprise was how long it took the main character to work it out.

But that’s just one very forgivable misstep in a book that is otherwise a damn good read, and highly recommended.

February schmebruary

(Week 9: February 24 – March 2)

writtenedited
Feb 1 – 8603295
Feb 10 – 15506644
Feb 17 – 22396470
Feb 24 – 287980
Total: 3,7122,3031,409

The good news is that the New Morning Routine is so far working out pretty well—or it least it would be if I hadn’t gotten sick halfway through the week. I managed an average of 400 words (written) for each of Monday and Tuesday (not my best, but not my worst either) and then used Wednesday to catch up on my blogs (for which I don’t bother counting words any more). Then I got sick and declined to get out of bed on Thursday and Friday.

The also good news is that the short story ideas are starting to flow again, and plot points and scenes for my novella are coalescing nicely; a sign that my brain is on board with this new routine.

I’ve put my February stats up above. As predicted, they’re a whole lot lower than January. No commentary required here: February was all about getting back into the new getting-the-kids-ready-for-school routine and working out what (and when) time was going to be left over for my writing. No surprise that there wasn’t much time left over for writing, or much writing. Fingers crossed for March!

Watching

I watched bits and pieces of Star Trek: Discovery and Russian Doll this week, but I’ll save writing about them for a later post.

Consequently the main viewing report for this week is Night Of The Comet (which was my choice for Fridate horror this week). Firstly, this isn’t really the ‘horror’ film I remember—I remembered lots and lots of zombies, and in the end there are about one and a half zombies (ah, the Two And A Half Men spin-off we never knew we needed unit now! Three Men And A Zombie, anyone…?).

Anyway, the fact that Night Of The Comet isn’t really a horror film doesn’t reduce any of its charm. It’s an eighties movie through and through, but with a solid core of the kind of dystopian science-fiction conspiracy stuff that was more common in the seventies. It’s also potentially the world’s only apocalyptic thriller with an upbeat shopping montage right in the middle.

Night Of The Comet is fondly remembered in cult circles, but never quite broke out. I suspect this is for two reasons. Firstly, the budget doesn’t quite match the ambitious vision (which might explain the limited zombies)—that being said, the film looks incredible for the most part. Secondly, it’s not horrific enough to be a horror film, nor sci-fi enough to be a sci-fi film, and it’s a touch too grim to be sold as a classic eighties teen movie—in short, it’s a bit on the unclassifiable side, which makes it hard to market.

Overall, a good watch, with enough style and substance to make up for any rough edges that remain.

Reading

This week I finished a book, which is always a momentous occasion. It was a novel called The Chalk Man, which I friend of mine recommended last year, and which I only got around to starting a few weeks ago.

Overall I enjoyed it. On the plus side, the plot steered off in a few directions that I didn’t expect, and avoided a few potential cliches on the way that would have had me tempted to put the book right back down. I also enjoyed that the plot was split across two times (1986 and 2016). It was good to see this working, given that my sci-fi novella adopts a similar structure. It was also mildly nostalgic, given that I was a teenager in the UK in 1986, which was exactly the case for the novel’s main characters.

There were, however, some things I found distracting. The book was marketed as being ‘in the style of Stephen King’. In the end I found it too self-consciously Kingesque—a bit like It-lite. The dialogue scenes were often completely tag-free as well, which removed a fair bit of detail from those scenes. Both of these issues will be things I’ll start scrutinising my own work for, as I suspect I’m just as guilty of them.

Finally, while I enjoyed the plot, I came away thinking that it was more of classic thriller with a few horror scenes bolted on. In fact, you could remove all elements of horror from this novel and it wouldn’t affect it one tiny bit.

Ultimately, a book I’m glad to have read (and the fact that I finished it is a pretty good compliment these days), but could probably been a truly great read with a teeny bit more focus.


The wheels on the bus go …

(Week 8: February 17-23)

This week, just as I was starting to get into my new routine, everything changed up again!

I wholeheartedly blame the Elderbeast, who is at last starting to take the bus to school—the delay being caused by waiting for his Smartrider card to arrive, and endured because his bus fare drops from $4.80 to $0.70 once he has the damn card.

Anyway, if you can recall as far back as last week, I was working on getting up around 6ish so that I could exercise/write/drink coffee until around 7:15am, at which time I would have to rouse said beast from his slumber and prepare him to be picked up at 7:45 and driven to school.

Now that he’s catching the bus, he needs to leave the house at around 7:15am instead, so that’s my schedule completely out of the window. However, I have a new plan and it’s very promising!

  • 6:03am – turn off ludicrously ambitious first alarm;
  • 6:19am – get up following far more acceptable second alarm;
  • 6:20am – cancel third alarm;
  • 6:30am – brief workout on the cross trainer;
  • 6:40am – start the process of extracting the Elderbeast from his bed;
  • 6:45am – present the Elderbeast with his morning kill (breakfast);
  • 6:45am to 7:15am – this time is now used for showering, checking emails, and general pottering about;
  • 7:15am – take the Elderbeast to the bus stop;
  • 7:20am – give the Kinderbeast breakfast;
  • 7:30am to 8:10am – writing time!!
  • 8:20am – leave the house.

As you can see, I’ve carved out at least half an hour for my writing. The big difference is that I’m now writing later in the morning, after I’ve done most of the annoying stuff. It’s only been in play for two days, but so far seems to be working well. I shall report back in further detail in a subsequent post.

Watching

Three fairly interesting films this week. Firstly, the long awaited (well, by the Elderbeast, at least) viewing of Predator 2. I remember this being a reasonably fun film, but it’s really, really not very good. Not painfully–or even entertainingly–bad, just disappointing. There are a lot of elements that should work, but the signs of a rushed production are far too apparent.

Also, as much as I enjoy seeing Danny Glover scrapping with aliens, the lead role should really have been rewritten to suit him a little better: he just doesn’t quite work as the sort of macho, flout-the-rules type character they’re trying to play him as. Also, he wears a range of perplexingly baggy clothes during the course of the movie.

Next up, this time for Friday horror, was Gerald’s Game: a film that’s been on my list for quite some time. This really was superb—a concept that I couldn’t quite convince myself would work as a movie, but proves to have plenty of mileage. And, this might be the first Friday horror film to contain a scene that I literally had to shield my eyes from. Let’s just say: degloving.

Finally, having recently read Northern Lights, I checked out the 2007 movie adaptation, The Golden Compass. As the reviews and lukewarm reception had suggested, this wasn’t an outright disaster, but was nevertheless a pale substitute for the book. To my mind it suffered from two critical flaws: they gave away pretty much the entire driving mystery of the book in the opening monologue (doh!); and the movie was edited so brutally that it came off as little more than a whistle-stop tour of scenes from the book. I don’t know if the original director’s cut would have solved that, but I’m left more with a sense of a missed opportunity than an outright disaster.

Still, at least I have the BBC adaptation to look forward to.

Reading

Bit of a reading lull at the moment, so you can take this week off 😉

The crack of the dawn whip

(Week 7: February 10-16)

Until very recently, my morning writing routine has been pretty simple: get up at 6:30am; make coffee; write until 7:30am; then get the kids ready for school while getting myself ready for work.

Unfortunately, the Elderbeast is now at a high school which, inconveniently, is somewhat further than a walk down the road away. This means I have to have him out of bed by about 7:15am to have any hope of him getting out of the house for 7:45am. Also, because he is apparently a high-functioning buffoon, I have to spend that entire half hour constantly reminding him of what he needs to do next in order to finish getting ready.

To further complicate matters, I’ve started using my cross trainer in the mornings. I’m only doing 5-10 minutes each day (my goal here is for it to become a habit; not for me to immediately do my 20 minutes a day). If you’ve done your calculations right, you’ll realise that this now leaves me with about 10-15 minutes of quality writing time.

The obvious answer—other than to give up on everything!!—is to start getting up earlier. Accordingly, I’ve started moving my alarms forward by 5 mins to ease me into an earlier start (I have three morning alarms, set at various intervals … though I typically get up on the first one). I’m currently managing a reasonable 20-25 minute writing session, but I am craving the return of my old 45 minute window. In promising news, I’m finding that I’m starting to wake up naturally just before 6am.

The struggle continues.

Watching

At the Elderbeast’s request we took in a rewatch of Edge Of Tomorrow at the weekend. I really like this film: it’s comfortably settled into the Good Fun category for me, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to remember that it also belongs in the Really Good Film category. On this rewatch, I ended up paying closer attention to Tom Cruise’s performance, and the way his character basically evolves from arsehole to hero. I can easily buy him as both/either, but the way Cruise manages to convincingly transition from one to the other is one of the reasons I find myself giving him a lot more credit these days than I would a few decades ago.

At the weekend, thanks to the dubious magic of Foxtel, I was able to catch the end of The Matrix and the beginning of a second film that looked like the Matrix, had a lot of the same characters and actors in, but can’t have been a Matrix film because it was terrible.

All joking aside, the catastrophic cliff-drop in storytelling competence between The Matrix and its two sequels is one of those things that will endlessly fascinate me. It’s (probably) what happens when you get carte blanche to do whatever you want and no one is prepared to tell you otherwise. With The Matrix, the Wachowskis had no choice but to hone the script to perfection in order to sell it. Then, it becomes a huge hit and they’re given all the money they want by the studio to make, well, more money (a.k.a sequels). Thing is, when you’re not challenged as a storyteller, you get lazy: you take shortcuts and you forget that the rules are typically there because they work.

I’ve always figured this is what happened with George Lucas. With A New Hope he faced an uphill battle to get the film made at all. With Empire, he still had to prove that he could sustain a franchise. By the time the prequels came around he had a licence to print money, and no one was going to say no to any of his terrible scripts or dubious ideas.

Anyway, I’ll park this discussion with two links for you. The first offers up Syd Field, screenwriting guru, explaining why he likes the script for The Matrix so much. The second is written by Carson Reeves, accidental script guru, and gives ten basic storytelling errors that The Matrix Reloaded makes (and which help explain why it’s such an unsatisfying film).

Reading

This week I started a new audiobook: a full-cast adaptation of Dracula. I was mostly drawn by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it also slotted in nicely alongside my rewatching of the Hammer Dracula films. Obviously this is a very different beast.

I’ve read the novel of Dracula precisely once, which is about the right number for the majority of novels, but seems a bit on the low side for something as noteworthy as Dracula. Either way, this is already proving a pretty good way to revisit the novel. At this point I’m spending most of my time in Castle Dracula with Jonathan Harker (performed by my new favourite narrator: Simon Vance). Despite the epistolary format of the novel, Vance also takes the opportunity to perform as Dracula (in scenes where Harker is recounting his encounters with the Count … sorry). Vance gives Dracula a voice reminiscent of the classic Trahn-sill-vahy-nyan Draculas gone by but also manages to reflect the fact that at this point in the story the Count is an old man. It’s a performance that enlivens an already engrossing listen no end.

This one is 15 hours long, so we’ll be on this journey for a few weeks yet. Sure, I know the story, but it’s good to rediscover it all over again.

January stats

(Week 6: February 3 – 9)

This marks the first week back at school for the Kinderbesten, and the first week of high school for the Elderbeast. Unsurprisingly, my morning routine has taken quite a hit. However, I’m going to talk a bit more about that in next week’s post; for now, let’s take a look at those January stats.

As previously covered, I stuck with two writing projects in January: a short, M.R. James inspired horror story; followed by a return to my sci-fi novella. January is typically a pretty strong month for me, and those word counts you see up there are only slightly higher than my figures for last year. One of the things that contributed to this was having a solid concept to help me power through my short story, which you’ll see reflected in the figures for weeks 1 to 3. As for the rest of the month, a relatively energetic editing spree on my novella kept the numbers flowing. I suspect the stats for February won’t be nearly as impressive.

Looking back at previous years, I do tend to start the year with a reasonable level of motivation and, often, a specific project in mind. It’s good to start on a high. One thing I’m particularly pleased with this month is that I’ve missed very few writing days; and the days that I have missed were typically ones where I had other things going on, so writing wasn’t on the cards anyway.

Something I can take away from this—other than January being an atypically productive month—is that having a well defined short story project is clearly good for my productivity. Nothing, after all, demotivates me more than floundering around wondering where the next words need to go. I think I’ll see if I can carry that approach over to my novella, and try working on each chapter as a short story project.

writtenedited
(Week 1) Jan 1 – 4 1284
0
(Week 2) Jan 6 – 11 12021911
(Week 3) Jan 13 – 1811635873
(Week 4) Jan 20 – 2506105
(Week 5) Jan 28 – 3104148
Total: 21,6863,64918,037

Watching

This week’s viewing highlight was the next entry in my unofficial rewatch of the Hammer Dracula movies: Taste The Blood Of Dracula.

These films are often less than good, but never less than fascinating. This was the fourth movie in the series, and by this time Christopher Lee’s reluctance to reprise the role was such that a replacement character was created—and even plays a significant role in the film—only for Lee to finally don the cape again.

I can really begin to understand Lee’s reticence. Despite the title, Dracula is no longer the star. He’s reduced to a macguffin in his own movie, literally skulking in the shadows and emerging for the occasional cameo appearance. He is the plot function around which all the other characters move—rarely, in fact, serving to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. In this movie, particularly, he often stands back while his minions get to do the dirty work.

Also, I’m now fascinated by the poor quality of Lee’s teeth, given the inevitable prominence they receive in numerous scenes.

Anyway: not a great movie by any means, but still a fun and rewarding experience. I’m already, perhaps masochistically, looking forward to the next one.

Reading

I finished the audiobook of Leviathan Wakes this week and ended up really enjoying it. It’s quite clearly a story in two halves, and I can see now why the first series of the TV only covered the first half of the first book. I found the second half a lot more engaging, and I’m a little tempted to return to the TV series now to see how it all comes out on screen.

While I had given consideration towards returning to IT, I eventually filled my audiobook gap with a full cast adaptation of Dracula—of which more next week.

In the ‘actually reading words with my eyes’ department, I’ve started reading a novel called The Chalk Man, which was recommended to me. So far I’m really into it—not in the least because it’s partly set in England in 1986, which is bringing back some memories of my own teen years.

The Dreaded Blank Page

(Week 5: January 27 – February 2)

Towards the end of this week, I hit a brick wall: the point where the words I was editing in my sci-fi novella ran out, and the dreaded blank page came slamming out of the darkness.

I’ll confess, it took me a bit by surprise. My memory had deceived me and led me to believe I had more words to chew on. I didn’t realise I was taking a running jump into the deep end. Obviously the goal of doing an editing session from chapter one (if you recall last week’s blog post) was to get the momentum going so I could fly right into those new words when the time came.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. I went from morning sessions where I’d edit a 1200 word chunk of work, to mornings where I could barely crack a word count of 300 (new words). Pretty frustrating.

There were a couple of external factors. It was the end of the week, it’s been hot, I’ve not been sleeping well. All of these things make my brain sluggish, and slow down the pumping out of new words. I’m also wondering if the shift from editing to writing is a bit jarring in this case, given that I’m typically used to writing a first draft, and then editing it.

My response to this is the same as always. 300 words is still better than zero words. However, if I find myself just sitting there facing a brick wall then I simply shift aside and work on something else (such as this blog post).

Watching

The Elderbeast fancied watching Predator 2 over the weekend. This. Did. Not. Happen. Mostly for reasons of tech fail. As an alternative we ended up watching the Star Trek Discovery ‘Short Treks’ which had recently arrived on Netflix. I loved both the concept and execution of these: brief tales that have no tangible impact on the main narrative, but give you a broader glimpse into the universe.

My favourite was Calypso. This takes place on the USS Discovery itself, but many hundreds of years into the future. It tells a beautiful story in its own right, but in the background there’s the funereal setting of a completely abandoned starship and all the questions that remain unanswered. Where did the crew go? Why has the ship been left to lurk, hidden inside a nebula? What has happened rat humanity in the intervening centuries?

(I was also delighted to see that this one was written by Michael Chabon, who’s not only an awesome author, but is also one of the writers on the new Picard series.)

For the record, the other three shorts are pretty good as well, particularly the Harry Mudd one, which is hilarious. Well worth 15 to 18 minutes of your time per episode.

Reading

Northern Lights book cover

I finished Northern Lights this week, which might be my fastest read in a long, long time. Being fifteen years or so since my first read of the book, it’s probably not surprising that there were very few details I remembered. It is, however, interesting to come to the story with a fairly fresh perspective and with the knowledge that there’s a TV adaptation in works (I was frequently trying to envisage how various scenes would work on-screen).

I’m keen to plough straight into the next book in the series, but I’ve decided I’ll space them out and pick up something else from my to-read pile in the interim.

rainy window

Back to the Forge

(Week 4: January 20 – 26)

Having completed my first short story of the year, I elected to return to the sci-fi novella I started last year (and got about halfway through before either running out of steam or getting briefly distracted by other ideas). Given that it had been a while, I reasoned that it would be smart to kick off with a fresh edit from chapter one so I could get back into the right frame of mind.

This gave me the perfect chance to implement a change I’ve been planning for a while now. The story is split between two narrative strands, following different characters at different points in the timeline of the plot. The first of these strands follows a single person (which already introduces a number of challenges, as well as opportunities).

A writer friend of mine read an early draft of the first chapter last year and suggested that it was the perfect chance to use the ‘deep POV’ style of writing. I wasn’t immediately familiar with the term, so I did some research into it and quickly decided that my friend was absolutely right.

I won’t go into what deep POV is here, as there are plenty of articles already out there, but I’ll do want to talk a little bit about how I went about adapting what I’d written so far.

Firstly, I went through each chapter and highlighted any elements that might take the reader out of the character’s POV. These include constructions like ‘she thought’, ‘she saw’, ‘she said’–in short, all the observational third person tags that give away the fact that there’s a writer at work here. These all had to go.

The next step was the most interesting. This was where I had to replace all of those tags with deep POV. This was surprisingly hard. We naturally write in either the third person or the first person. Writing deep POV is a blend of the two: it’s a third person narrative, but almost indistinct from first person in parts. I’m sure I’ll get into the swing of it in time, but my writer-brain doesn’t intuitively write this way. Yet.

I don’t have any decent samples from my own text to share, but by way of an illustration I’d be looking for something like this:

She heard a sound. She thought it was creepy. She decided to run away.

(And, for the record: no, I don’t write that badly even in my first drafts!) Having identified the offending text, I’d then change it to something like:

The sound was like a thousand dirty nails raking across her spine. Her skin tightened. Her blood begged to freeze in her veins. The terror drove her legs, taking her anywhere but closer to where the sound had come from.

The changes can be more subtle than that, but the why limit yourself when the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the character’s head is there? It might be tricky, but it’s a rewarding process for a writer: right inside my character’s head is exactly where I want to be.

And now I have five more chapters of this to go through …

Watching

Dunkirk movie poster

Myself and the Elderbeast found ourselves in the mood for watching something on Monday night, and disappointingly bereft of any specific choices. After a relatively brief trawl through my Netflix list, the Elderbeast picked out Dunkirk. We saw this together at the cinema together last year, and both really enjoyed it, so I was certainly keen to revisit it.

There were two noticeable differences for me on this second viewing. Firstly, I was fully clued up on the film’s somewhat eccentric narrative structure this time around (in short: one of the narrative threads takes place over an hour; the second over a day; and the third over a with all three eventually coinciding near the end of the film). This meant I was no longer forced to wonder such things as whether I’d imagined seeing Cillian Murphy in two seemingly different roles or not.

The second difference was the sound. Now, the sound design is a fundamental part of this movie. Hans Zimmer’s soundscape is calculated to increase tension at key points; the distinctive sound of the fighter jets is meant to inspire the same fear in the audience as it would have for the soldiers on the ground–Dunkirk is as much an auditory experience as a visual one. All of this still jumped right out, but even with my half-decent surround system there was nowhere near the same sensory impact that the cinema offered. This is definitely one of those rare films that is absolutely designed to be seen on the big screen and truly provides a worthwhile experience if you do so.

Halloween 2018 movie poster

Towards the end of the week I spotted that the reboot/remake/sequel of Halloween was out on bluray, which made our Fridate horror viewing a pretty easy choice. I’ve been keen to see this for a while, but given that it was out for about two minutes in the cinemas, I missed my chance first time around. While I still don’t quiiiiite think this quite matches up to the original, I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s easily the best of the sequels and makes for a very worthy follow up to the original (and best).

A few comments on this one. First, the body count is significantly greater than in the original film—not sure if the filmmakers felt this was a necessary escalation, or if it was a logical extension of the narrative. I don’t believe it was for gratuitous horror reasons as there were some other interesting choices made. For one, many of the deaths either happen either offscreen or just out of shot. There are plenty of appropriately gory moments, but it’s interesting to note that the filmmakers appear to be actively rejecting any torture-porn opportunities.

Second comment is that, while the movie has numerous truly impressive shots, there’s an almost deliberately unstyled approach. It’s as if the filmmakers are avoiding the obvious visual cues that this is a horror movie, which makes some sense given the emphasis on psychology and family.

Definitely one that’s already demanding a repeat viewing.

Reading

Northern Lights book cover

My Awesome Partner is currently reading Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass; aka the first part of Philip Pullman’s excellent His Dark Materials series). Given that this happened on my recommendation, and I’ve been meaning to give the series a reread pretty much since I first read the book, I decided to give it a go myself

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given how much I enjoyed it first time around, but I sat down to try out the first chapter and ended up three chapters in before I was ready to put it down. I’ll have more to say on the book in the next post or two, but it’s always such an excellent experience to pick up a book that you genuinely don’t want to put down. I suspect this one won’t take me too long to finish.

eggs

Moar ghosts in the machine

(Week 3: January 13 – 19)

I’ve been working on just one story since the start of the year: an M.R. James inspired Christmas ghost story (the idea for which clearly arrived at least two months too late). It’s not an especially original tale, but I often enjoying writing to a particular style as a mini challenge.

I typically think of my writing process as one of adding layers of detail and texture. The first draft is there to get the bare bones of the story down. The second draft fixes up the plot and refines the characterisation. The third (and sometimes final) draft, finesses the flow of the story: tidying up the language, smoothing out rough edges and inconsistencies, making sure the characters are convincing.

With this particular story, I realised, as I started the second draft, that the structure wasn’t quite right. A good horror story needs a few things to work: it needs an escalation of fear (you don’t, after all, want to make things less scary), but it also needs a good hook to grab the reader’s interest in the first place. In this instance, I’d written a pretty good hook, but it came at the start of the second act.

Fixing this wasn’t too tricky as the story had a fairly simple structure. I moved the hook to the start of the first act, and then found an even better lead-in to the second act (one that appropriately escalated things). Otherwise, much of the plotting and dialogue remained largely as it was.

I did still have a small problem with escalation: in this new version, the story begins with one character in a clear state of terror (as opposed to being mildly disturbed). This means that the ‘range of terror’ I have to play with is reduced: I have less capacity to escalate. I have (hopefully) resolved this by spending a bit more time on the relationship between the characters, and adding in just enough background texture to make the setting subtly, but increasingly oppressive.

This is one of the reasons why I often enjoy the editing process more than the initial writing. Sometimes you might get the story more or less right in the first draft, but more often than not it’s the reading of that first draft that truly starts to reveal the possibilities of a story to you.

Watching

poster for dracula has risen from the grave

Fridate Horror this week was the next instalment in our unofficial/occasional rewatch of the Hammer Dracula films; bringing us to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Spoiler: Dracula rises from the grave and kills people. Remarkably few people, actually.

Following on from the surprising, and very welcome, viciousness of Dracula Prince Of Darkness, this entry was relatively tame but sets the formula of an imperilled damsel and a dashing hero which, I think, gets recycled over the next few films.

The main point of interest remains Christopher Lee. In some respects I find his performance almost comical at times–laughably unthreatening, and occasionally gangly and graceless. However, I recall various other actors who have tried to bring menace and undead life to the Count, and it becomes clear how effortlessly Lee manages it. He only needs to stand there, and maybe snarl a bit, and he’s already nailed it. It remains a bit of a tragedy that he was never given a really, really good Dracula film to, ahem, sink his teeth into.

Reading

book cover for doctor who tales of terror

I finished Doctor Who: Tales Of Terror this week and, while it may not have been the meatiest or most chilling of reads, it was definitely a whole lot of fun. Several stories had the seed of some really horrific material in them, and it was always interesting seeing how well (or otherwise) the writers managed to capture the personality of their particular Doctor.

My summary of the last six stories goes something like this:

  • The Seventh Doctor and Ace visit Victorian London, and find something terrible lurking beneath the surface of a tortured painter’s latest work;
  • The Eighth Doctor battles a genetically engineered monster on a cruise ship (this was fun, but also laughably terrible—like a high school fiction assignment);
  • The Ninth Doctor unmasks a ghostly Pierrot haunting an travelling carnival in what is easily the most horrific story in the collection;
  • The Tenth Doctor and Martha encounter the Family of Blood one last time;
  • The Eleventh Doctor saves a family from the weeping angels;
  • The Twelfth Doctor helps a brother and sister fight off an army of creepy, baby-faced dolls (yes, they’re Autons)

Overall the second half of the book seemed much stronger than the first, with most of the stories working well in their own right, as opposed to feeling like part of a themed collection. I would probably pick the Ninth Doctor story as my favourite, purely because the concept was so appealingly grotesque.

However, kudos go to the Eleventh Doctor story for managing to draw some fresh mileage from the weeping angels, and the Twelfth Doctor tale for brilliantly capturing that Doctor’s personality.

pretty sunset

2018 in words and numbers

(Week 2: January 6 – 12)

Having looked at my annual totals in last week’s post, this week I want to focus specifically (and briefly) on my stats for 2018.

Writtenavg.EditedTotal
Totals:91,589640
93,770185,359
Jan17,603
103511,31328,916
Feb7,9865321,4439,429
Mar5,84941810,69116,540
Apr9,8015452,81512,616
May9,70374610,16519,868
Jun2,15553915,46115,461
Jul10,9349119,5519,551
Aug3,3196648904,209
Sep9,0675677,2007,200
Oct9,6335075,8205,820
Nov9,63361512,10712,107
Dec 1,231 4106,3147,545

Having looked at my annual totals in last week’s post, this week I want to focus specifically (and briefly) on my stats for 2018.

Overall last year was pretty good writing-wise; far more consistent than the preceding few years. Thanks, in part, to my cosy writing corner (which I set up in my bedroom halfway through 2017) I managed to more or less avoid the winter slump that has hit me in previous years. I suspect those low August figures are more to do with me being particularly poor at recording my daily word counts during that month than anything else. In fact, if there has been any single ongoing issue during last year, it’s my lax attitude to properly recording my writing output. That’s something I plan to improve on this year.

Going briefly through the rest of the year … the high word count in January is down to two things: some fairly chunky blog posts, and a couple of epic sessions on a story that I was clearly very motivated to write. I did a further draft of that same story in March, partly accounting for that month’s high editing count, but also started work on a sci-fi novella; progress on which helped keep my word counts healthy over much of the year. November saw me revisiting a few stories I’d started earlier in the year, with some bumper editing sessions. December, perhaps predictably, ended up being largely overtaken by Christmas.

In total, I started ten new stories in 2018; 7 of those are now complete, and 3 still need work. I wrote 52 blog posts, of varying length. I also managed to write somewhere in the region 30,000 words towards a sci-fi novella (which, given I’m only halfway though, may well end up being a novel).

So, yeah, pretty happy with 2018.

Watching

I watched little of note this week, so let’s skip ahead to the next section.

Reading

i am legend graphic novel cover

Just before Christmas I bought an anthology of Richard Matheson adaptations from ComiXology. For some reason, I Am Legend had been on my mind over the last month, so I started with that story. It turned out to be an immensely detailed—and very lengthy—adaptation. I haven’t read the original novel, but I get the feeling this retelling crams as many of the original words in as possible. It was very similar, in fact, to the graphic novel of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? which I read last year, and which very much felt like the novel being retold with imagery (as opposed to the rushed Cliff’s Notes version which many adaptations end up being).

It took me several nights to read, and left me with the sense that I’d been on a journey with the main character—which is exactly what you want from a novel. The stark black and white design conveyed the desolation of the story beautifully, without ever distracting from it.

Overall, definitely recommended; though I’m highly tempted to read to novel now to see if it really does compare as closely as I suspect.

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