Monthly Archives: October 2013

Just a quick post to point out that, despite scurrilous rumours to the contrary, not only am I not dead but there are also good things in the works regarding writing and publishing and editing and, uh, all those keyboard-related shenanigans. I’m getting what writing I can done between the “real” work at Uni. And just to prove it, Chapter 1 of an increasingly polished Ironfang is up on Scribophile! If you’re a down-on-your luck agent or fancy yourself as some sort of critique-savvy editorial type, click the image and go check it out.


October 30, 2013 · 12:01 am

Why Knockouts May Be Knocking Your Story Out

“Damnit,” thought every writer somewhere, once. “I really wish there was an easy way to get my character from A to B without having to describe the boring journey stuff in between. By what means might this be done? How can my character’s faculties cease to function just long enough for the reader to be spared this boredom?” Image

“I know, I’ll knock him out!”

“Damnit,” thought every writer somewhere, once. “This fight is really uneven, and I need the underdogs to win. By what means can the odds be leveled?

“I know, I’ll knock someone out!”

Cheap tricks, ladies and gentlemen. Cheap writerly tricks. Lord knows, I’ve done it many times. I’m actually just redrafting a variant of the good old ‘knockout scene’ for Ironfang, wherein the protagonist is tasered, tied up and has a bag stuffed over her head. No car ride descriptions for you, Valerie!

But given the amount of times people are laid out cold in novels, films and TV shows you would imagine a brisk gust of wind is sufficient to send the homosapien cognitive system into shutdown. Unfortunately for us lazy writers, that isn’t the case,

Sure, it’s perfectly possible to knock someone out with a single blow to the cranium. But it has to be a pretty damn hard blow, with all the weight of arms, shoulders and good forward momentum behind it. It also has to be well placed – the jaw or the temple. Whacking someone on the cheek isn’t going to cut it.

The reality is that smashing your fist into someone’s skull in a fight is a pretty bad idea. The head, you see, got the lion’s share of our organic armour plating, namely a big hunk of bone called a skull. When it comes to a proper street scrap, most techniques involve going for an opponent’s softer parts, and not relying on an all-or-nothing crack to the head which has a 50-50 chance of simply breaking your own hand. In it’s most brutally simplistic terms, the best way to win a brawl is the tried and tested technique of getting your opponent on the ground and then kicking until he stops moving.

As stated, it is quite possible to knock a character for sixes with a single head-strike. However a secondary problem arises when your character, having now been dragged unconscious through the winding streets of boredom, wakes up in the villain’s lair ready to go at it once again. As many professional boxers can attest, the sad truth is that getting smacked repeatedly around the head leaves the human body with a plethora of both long-term and short-term difficulties. If you get hit on the jaw chances are you’ll damage the cranial nerve and send a shock to the brain that shuts off all non-automatic activity. A hit on the temple rattles the brain around the skull wall and will likely cause a concussion due to trauma to the brain stem. So having your character come to without so much as a headache minutes after going down is more than a few steps removed from reality.

The simple fact is that as a writer you have to come up with more interesting and unusual ways of doing stuff. If a section of the story has the potential to be boring, ask yourself two things – what can be done to make it interesting and, if nothing, how easily can it be dropped? Knocking a character out of the fight is too much of a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

That’s not to say it should never be used. I still allow myself a quota of one knockout (or semi-knockout, re the taser incident) per story, occasionally two if it’s a novel. But be aware that using it too frequently becomes predicable and gimmicky. And for goodness sake, remember to describe the bruising afterwards!



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Earth’s Greatest Dramatic Device – Gravity

Go and take a running jump, they say. Sound dramatic advice if you ask me. I realised a while ago just how frequently gravity features in  fiction. Whether its from a satellite, a cathedral spire, a balcony, a tower or, arguably the most classic cliche, a clifftop, the number of characters who have plummeted – all too often to their deaths –  is legion.


I myself love a bit of freefall. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the nature of the event. Helplessness, weightlessness, hopelessness, there is something shockingly dramatic about the sight of a human being taking a plunge.

For examples of just how many characters have fallen off various objects to their doom one need look no further than that greatest of artistic studios, Disney. From Mufasa to Clayton, Gaston to Emperor Palpatine (what? He’s Disney now!), the number of characters who have fallen in every sense of the word is counted in the dozens.

Why? An obvious answer seems to be that dying by the will of gravity is a lot more acceptable and a lot cleaner (notice you never see the tidy-up operation afterwards…) than dying at someone’s hands. Sure, plenty of these characters were pushed or otherwise coerced over the edge, but it still leaves their killer, often the hero, with clean hands. Literally. The faltering footstep or the refusal to accept the outstretched fingers of reconciliation provides the final evidence of a moral corruption which dooms these characters to their sad but apparently inevitable fates.

And of course let's not forget the greatest fall of all. My heart breaks just putting this here.

And of course lets not forget the greatest fall *crunch* of all. My heart breaks just putting this here.

Such dramatic device is undeniably a tried-and-tested success, but personally I’ve found the most powerful falls to be not accidental or the vengeance of a wrathful story-plotter, but rather those jumps freely taken. I’m still not sure why, but the tiny cut-scene in Ubisoft’s amazing WW2 shooter Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway remains the most dramatic jump I’ve ever seen (it can be found here at 5.14). Despite being so apparently small and mediocre, its power lies in the fact that the character doing the jumping has just spent the last 5 minutes racing through a burning building. Here we’re presented with a simple yet incredibly grave choice. Burn or jump. Because the alternative is so horrific, the jump becomes all the more powerful. Throwing yourself head-first from a window without knowing what lies beyond is all sorts of messed up fearless-desperateness, and who doesn’t like a bit of that in their fiction?

I myself got a little taste of near-freefall when I went bungee jumping last year. I’m anything but an adrenaline junkie – I’ve never even been on a roller coaster! But there’s something incredibly alluring about that lonely step into nothing. Bringing it into fiction involves literally sending your characters over the edge. How people – real or fictitious – react when they’re standing on it looking down tells you a great deal about them.



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October 4, 2013 · 4:02 pm

The Evil Story-Changing Imp

Ever do that thing where you write like 500 – 1000 words of a story in a rush one night, glance back over it as soon as you’re done and you’re all just like


spewin moddafunkin rainbows

Yeeeah, I just did that. Feels great. Not compainin’. But I’m a big enough boy now to know that this trippy ‘I’m a Godly author’ moment will have a comedown. Like seemingly everything else on this earth, when you see your writing the next day it just, well…



It’s like some daemonic little evil story-changing imp got into your word processor overnight and just downright messed with your stuff. It’s like a sixteen-year-old with angst issues hacked your files in a bid to make your story better reflect their immature attitude. It’s like, well, I’ll stop before the metaphors get any worse. You get the picture.

Luckily I know that’s exactly what’s going to happen, so guess what I’m going to do? That’s right kiddo, I’m NOT going to read what I’ve just written tomorrow. I’m just gonna carry straight on writing, and writing. Not writing for a third time though, because this is technically the 2nd draft so I’ll have to face up to those edits sometime soon and stop grafting on new scenes (the story needs them, okay? *angstfit*

The point is, I’m going to squeeze that writing high for every ounce of positivity and forward momentum I can get out of it. You should too. With your own writing though, my s**t’s too pure for you to handle.


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