Tag: On Writing Fiction


There are times where I don’t know whether something is funny because of its context or whether it is just funny in its own right. Take for example the late, great Mr. Vonnegut’s novel ‘Timequake.’ In the Vintage edition of the book, printed in 1998 in New Zealand, a certain punchline to a gag occurs overleaf (for people who want to appreciate the joke, go find the book). The punch is unexpected, as are most of Mr. Vonnegut’s jokes, but the fact that you have to turn the page to read it renders it, I think, even funnier.

Or does it. I can’t say; to do that I would have to had also read the book, afresh, in a different edition, and as I am not (currently) bilocal, I’m unable to do that.

These things concern me.

Comedy Writers on the Nature of Computer Games

Read this. It’s Simon Pegg (of ‘Spaced), Graham Linehan (the writer of ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd’) and some other comedic chappies discussing videogame writing.



Spoken Thusly

Jane Espenon, writer of such fabulousities as ‘Buffy…’Gilmore Girls’ and now owner of a development deal at NBC/Universal recently wrote an illuminating post on spoken dialogue that sounds as if it were written (using Anya, from ‘Buffy…’ as an excellent example). As someone who speaks in written form and who has a penchant (?) for writing written dialogue I’m fascinated with naturalism.

I have what is these days called a speech hesitancy. It’s been a near-constant companion now for twenty-eight years. Years and years of speech training has reduced the hesitancy considerably. It doesn’t affect my writing (nor my singing or speech making) directly, but indirectly… Because I plan my sentences and don’t use those natural pause sounds like ‘Ah…’ or ‘Um…’ (due to being trained out of it) I only know ‘naturalistic’ dialogue from others. I love listening to people (and privately reconstructing their speech to fit my own). There are days when I’d like to be able to switch from my melodramatic speaking pattern to something more antipodean, not as a fitting in mechanism but rather because it would be useful. There are some parts of this great country of mine where speaking like a nounce can do your head in (in the most literal way); I sometimes have to pretend to be a foreignor.

I’m not sure where I am going with this. A lot of my fiction is either pastiche (usually of 1940s radio) or features solitary characters who are forced to talk to themselves or non-human entities. In part this is because I like soliloquies and melodrama. It doesn’t always make for great writing, but I’m fairly good at editing out most of my own pretentiousness. Yet I can also blame my penchant (?) on my own verbal inadequacy. It’s something I’m working on, something that having work performed is really helping with. Hearing my work performed, especially by other people, makes me realise just how awkward some of my writing can be to speak out loud. It can be a fairly embarressing learning curve.

Another of my works in progress. More news as it comes to hand.

Angels, Demons and the Da Vinci Code

As part of my researches into a course on conspiracy theories I have read all the Robert Langton (all two of them) books that Dan Brown wrote. ‘Angels and Demons,’ the lesser known of the two, details an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican and features a quest to locate the Church of Illumination. It also features an initially interesting sub-plot about a Catholic priest-scientist creating matter and anti-matter to prove the creation ex nihilo hypothesis (which, as a plot point, amounts to nothing in the end). ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (film coming soon) is about the Priory of Sion and the Church’s suppression of the Sacred Feminine. Conspiracy-tastic; pity that these two books are badly written, clumsily plotted and barely researched. As my good friend Majikthise pithily put it, seven million people can be wrong.

First, the characterisation. Nothing is left to the reader’s imagination; you always know what your main characters are thinking, which means that the suspense of ‘Will they or won’t they?’ is always ruined within a paragraph. Add to that the obvious candidate for ‘villian of the piece’ and you get paper cutouts maskerading as people. Robert Langton is a stereotype university professor of the school of ‘I obviously have never been taught by a university academic.’ Let’s ignore the flashbacks of classes (that belong, rightfully or wrongly, on TV) or the moments of erudition that seem to come straight from guide books. No, let’s focus on the characterisation. We can tell he is an academic because he wears tweed. Everything after that is just obvious.

The plot of each book is basically this: Langton is brought to the site of a bizaare murder. The murder scene evokes some esoteric fact of which he is the only real expert and is a clue that leads him to the next clue, which is itself a clue that leads to the next, and so forth. Luckily, as Robert isn’t totally polymathic, he gets a nubile assistant, say, a quamtum biologist or a cryptographer, who is able to help out. They solve each clue whilst being pursued by a religious zealot who is also an assasin. The assasin thinks they are working for a particular group (the Illuminati or the Church) but this is all a front. The real villian of the piece turns out to have been working with them the entire time amd they are only stopped in the nick of time. Normality is restored and Langton gets it on with the assistant (who, bizaarely, isn’t one of his graduate students). It’s plot-by-numbers, sometimes literally.

As to the research… I realise that fiction doesn’t have to map history. Surely, though, you can present the history as accurately as possible in the context of the story? You would expect Adam Weisshaupt to be mentioned in any history of the Illuminati. Aargh. The wish to wax lyrical on the non-lyrical nature of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is doing my head in. I should focus these issues into exciting course content.


Yes, I shall.

Lost Season Two

A lot of people found the second season of ‘Twin Peaks’ just a tad too bizaare, which was a major factor in its non-renewal; it lost its core audience, the non-genre fans that tolerate a little fantasy in their drama. ‘Lost’ season two, which could well have gone the way of ‘Twin Peaks’ season two, seems to have amped up its fantasy whilst continuing to focus on the mystery of the island. We’ve learnt a lot this season about the Dharma Initiative and the Others but, by and large, this information is sidereal to the character backstories the show does so well.

It’s a clever move. Die-hard fans love the unfolding mystery whilst casual viewers can dip in and out of the show and only be a little confused by the dealings in the hatch. With eight episodes to go and a lot more explaining to do I really can’t say I know where the show is going for its third season. I can say, however, that I’ll be sticking with it until the end, even if they do the unthinkable and kill off Locke. Still, the mooted plan for a theatrical release finale seems like a really risky idea; watching a show every Tuesday night is one thing, but heading off to the cinema to watch a film that will likely need a fairly detailed knowledge of the TV show is another matter entirely.

Perhaps, however, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ has tainted all my hopes, dreams and desires.

Damn you, David Lynch. Damn you to hell.

Not really an argument but a half-formed pointlette

In Mick Garris’ ‘Chocolate’ a man, for no discerable reason, suddenly starts to share sensations with another person, someone he has never met. It is the kind of conceit commonly found in horror that, if not handled properly, can yank the viewer out of the story and make them wonder ‘So, why is this happening again?’

If I was to be overly general I would say that there are two schools of horror; deserved and undeserved victims. It’s a rather usually demarcation; is the antiquarian of M. R. James’ ‘Count Magnus’ deserving of his fate simply because he showed an academic curiousity in an old casket? Still, there is at least a question that any horror ‘author’ must answer; why is this thing happening to these people? Often this is blithely ignored, and sometimes for good reason. Why are the dead returning to life and terrorising these people? Because the horror of the situation comes from being in such an extreme and unexpected context. The victims of this horror are not unique; the terror is ocurring to everyone everywhere and the story comes from what these select individuals will do given their circumstances.

Yet when something utterly random and unique plagues a character; well, that takes rare skill to sell.

Perhaps it is my academic training that makes me question such things; it probably does disrupt the fiction. Yet perhaps not. Take ‘Ringu’ as an example. Sadako has invested her anger in a videotape. A reporter becomes involved; she (he, depending on which version of the story you are experiencing) seemingly has weird and random events occur to her (him)… Except that they aren’t. She is researching a killer video tape. People, that she knows of, have died because of it. So it is not random or unexpected, just different.

Unlike ‘Chocolate,’ which has no rhyme or reason behind it. It is a series of events with no explanation and no real consequence. Pity, really.