Monthly Archives: May 2014

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May 30, 2014 · 4:44 pm

Godzilla – A Writer’s Worst Nightmare?

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Badassery personified.

Godzilla and I have a little bit of history. The 1998 Hollywood version was the first film I ever saw in a cinema – it made a pretty big (no pun intended) impact. I haven’t seen it for years, so it was with a bit of sadness that I realised, when the new one was released, that apparently everyone hates the Matthew Broderick version. The weight of opinion is such that I guess everyone’s right and it is a Bad Film ™ but it did mean that, rosy nostalgia being what it is, I was looking forward to seeing the new Gojira in action. 

Following yesterday’s viewing I was neither disappointed nor blown away. I’d rate it A for Acceptable, score it 2.8 out of 5 and commit to seeing the sequel, even if I wouldn’t pay to watch this one in the cinema a second time. But what struck me most of all, again and again, was just how hellishly difficult the whole thing must have been to write. 

Mild spoilers below. 

Let’s begin with the basic premise – you’re trying to write a film about a huge monster battling other huge monsters. That creates two immediate problems. How do you create character empathy for these titanic prehistoric beasts and, secondly, how do you shoehorn the human element in?

The sub-difficulties attached to these twin issues are manifold. In Godzilla you have an inherent problem. It is unable to provide an immediate, edge-of-your-seat threat because it is a) big and b) relatively slow. Having it constantly appear in the vicinity of your main characters, who are jetting all over the Pacific, runs a very real risk of stretching credulity. 

The threat factor was further diminished by the fact that none of the monsters were actually out to eat, kill or otherwise destroy anyone. The MUTO were simply seeking radioactive sites to feed on, and Godzilla was simply trying to kill the MUTO. All the damage done throughout the film was accidental collateral. This created a disjointedness and again means it doesn’t really feel like anyone, let alone the main characters, are in real danger. Other films like the previous Gozilla or Cloverfield successfully circumvented this when they introduced a cast of smaller supporting beasties which were more than capable of pursuing the cast through streets and sewers – the new Godzilla missed out on this trick by having the baby MUTOs obliterated en-mass at the first opportunity. 

Finally, there was the problem of having the human cast interacting with the “villain” monsters. At several points the MUTOs stooped down to shriek in the protagonist’s face, an act that would have made about as much sense as us screaming at an ant. Whilst attempting to create a dynamic bond between hero and villain is understandable, the whole concept fell a bit flat considering said villain was a 500-foot high dino-parasite. In terms of Godzilla itself the film made some good calls – there were certainly the beginnings of an empathetic bond between man and beast. I was hoping he/she survived, and there was a small cheer from the cinema audience at both the big guy’s/gal’s finishing moves vs the MUTOs. I think this could have been played up more. The beast was certainly a badass. 

There were other more niggling issues – the female lead did literally nothing plot-wise and seemed to only exist to provide the love interest and not an ounce more. Ken Watanabe gave an uncommonly sterile performance consisting of him having little to do outside of Exposition and Looking Shocked and Awed, but I suspect this was more to do with him being given very little, if anything, to work with. 

Overall I still enjoyed it. I have big respect for the writer for managing to create something reasonably acceptable – faced with the above challenges, I know I couldn’t have pulled it off. It must have been a massive headache shoehorning it all into a believable piece of work, and I’ll be intrigued to see if the same writer takes up the challenge once more with the already-announced sequel. 

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“I’m ready for my closeup”

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What you Read Informs what you Write

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Earlier today I chose four fiction titles at random from my bookshelves, and opened up the first page. Of the four, three began with a single-sentence paragraph. The prologue of the fourth was itself just a single paragraph long, consisting of four sentences.

I then looked at the opening sentences of four of my own short stories, printed in various anthologies. What do you know? Three out of four in terms of one-line openings.

It’s a well-known fact that what we read has a bearing on what we write, but a lot of people seem to underestimate just how much their work is a reflection of other’s. And nor is it a one-way system. We write the way we do because our subconcious has picked up on the styles of our favourite authors after hours and hours of avid reading, but… Have we also chosen these authors because they in turn reflect our own budding style? The reality is a “chicken or egg” situation, where no one can ever really know which came first, and the truth is likely more of a synthetic mixture of both aspects – we write what we like to read, we read what we like to write, and on and on.

Catching the link between your writing and your reading can be vital because it gives you insight into your own voice. We’re always told to try and first find, and then hone, this illusive authorial trait. Seeing that voice reflected in what you read, however, is kind of like looking in the mirror – you can see how other people might view your work. It also allows you to change aspects you dislike, or just try out something new. During the early stage of a writer’s career his voice isn’t fixed, and nor was it ever sitting waiting to be found, already fully-formed. It develops organically over time, and nobody should be afraid of helping it down a particular path, or steering it away from another. I’ve known about my predilection for snappy one-liner openings for some time now, so a while back I made a conscious effort to start stories with some broader description. That certainly wasn’t because I disliked the one-liner style or wanted to change it, I just didn’t want to shoehorn my developing voice into a predictable trend or stunt its development by not trying new things.

Next time you open a book, pay extra attention to matters like sentence structure, bears and paragraph breaks, for a start. Take notes if it helps. Style and voice run through every aspect of storytelling, but physical words-on-page technique is a nice easy way to begin analysis. Think about how other’s style reflects your own, and decide what you like best about it, and what you’d like to change.

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One Lesson on How to Decrease your Chances of Getting an Agent

hash-mistakeWhen I first began writing this blog I was more than a little intimidated by the discordant plethora of writer’s voices already online, giving sage advice on everything from the best fonts to the “snowflake plotting technique.” What could I possibly add to all this? Who’s going to pay attention to one new voice among the million already established?

Try to create unique content, I thought. Maybe my personal experiences and ongoing adventure as a budding author would be the most interesting topics for blog-fuel. That train of thought holds true today, but I realised this morning that I’d been overlooking a very good reason behind the fact that so many “writing advice” blogs already exist. I was, to use a tired phrase, missing the woods for the trees.

A literary agent I recently submitted to began her guidelines page by congratulating the reader on already doing better than most, simply due to the fact that said reader was actually bothering to check the guidelines. The majority, apparently, do not. And therein lies the reason for the evergreen market for posts like “top ten tips for submitting to literary agents” or “Things to avoid when writing from the female point-of-view” – no matter how many millions of people seem to be blogging on commonplace writing matters, there are billions of fresh-faced writers very much in need of the basics. If anything, dispensing tried-and-tested advice is a public service.

That’s why I hope to do more basic posts in the future – as far as I’m concerned, there can’t be enough words of wisdom on the many aspects of being a wannabe author, and if I improve just one writerkin’s understanding of the industry with my own meager knowledge, I’ll be doing something worthwhile.

So, lesson number one – if you really don’t want to land a literary agent, a great way to start is by not even reading their submission guidelines! Take five minutes out to do that and you’ll already be running ahead of the pack.

 

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The Copycat’s Pain

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I admit it, I only wrote this post so I could include the majestic mother of all grizzly alpha males that is Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister.

A few weeks ago I began my mammoth end-of-university project – catching up on Game of Thrones. I’ve been meaning to both read the books and watch all four seasons (and counting!) of the HBO series for years now, but there was just never quite enough breathing space. Now, I have a whole summer of inactivity to look forward to.

Reading, alongside actually writing, has always been the most important activity for any author, but there is a certain degree of danger involved in immersing yourself fully in another writer’s work. Especially for the impressionable (I prefer “easily inspired”) folks out there, like me. Caught up in the splendor of George R. R. Martin’s characters and settings, it is deceptively easy to wake up one morning and say “hey, I want to write fantasy!” 

Yes folks, inspiration is every bit the two-edged sword. Of late I’ve been experiencing a craving for swords and castles and all sorts of medieval political skulduggery. I wonder where on earth all that could have come from? It’s certainly a far cry from the Urban Fantasy I’m currently preparing to launch into 3rd draft mode. As much as I love inspiration, it really isn’t proving conducive right now, because it’s being channeled in the wrong direction. I already have a fantasy story, dang it

That’s the thing with the copycat urge that so often surfaces when inspired by someone else’s characters, plot and setting – it can so easily derail our existing projects. It takes a bit of willpower to get through it and apply what your learning from your reading to what you’re currently working on, rather than just chuck everything in and starting afresh. Do not surrender to such temptation! I guarantee that not long after you finish up whatever it was that was inspiring you, the urge to continue the copycat project will quickly taper out, leaving you high and dry.

And if you really can’t help yourself, by all means, vent that creativity by writing some fan fiction! I’ve actually started treating the origin story of the disgustingly villainous Kurt Tanner from Game of Thrones as a late-night “reward” for a good day’s redrafting. Try it out – you won’t be disappointed. 

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“I was a fooking legend on WordPress!”

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