Friday, July 18, 2008

Watchmen Trailer

I know, I know! I haven't been round much - certainly failed on the 30 posts in a month front. Well aside from all the uni work I've been doing, I actually have work work to do - and that's a bad thing, because it prevents me from writing. Sigh! In the meantime...

We may all be waiting on Dark Knight's release (got my tickets. Got yours?), but here's one I'm desperate to see:

Finally it's online - to see a perfect quality version of the March 2009 Comicbook movie trailer, go to Empireonline. (Hope you love it, MG)

Also, a storyboard matchup between comic and movie also on Empireonline.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


More often than not we deal with sight over the other senses, generating monosensual texts that, while functional, remain flat to the reader.

Anyone remember what great sensual references Dan Brown made in The Da Vinci Code? Me neither. Anyhoo, listing them out like this is a great to see where I'm reliant upon certain sense, failing to use others, or not entirely developing reader sense through power words or onomatopoeia.


This is an abstract reference of loss rather than an actual bite or sting felt by the character, but, it's a start:
Even an insect bite or sting might have seemed natural, but they too were not to be found in Rome's parched carcass.
Another reference to loss:
He wished they were within reach, so that he might feel their texture.
Then I start relating more concretely (and this is a crossover to taste):
The air was heavy and dry in a way that no air conditioning or water could satisfy.
I begin to relate more specifically. Here are temperature references:
Lying in the pooling heat on her bedroom floor he'd plead with her to talk cool words and chilling breaths.
In the wintertime the frost settled upon the bedsheets and he'd huddle up to Mama.
When soil was soil:
... when her hands weren't thick and dripping with soil.
Rugs and grass:
... softer and more comforting than any rug.
... as she kicked off her shoes to feel the cool of the unsunned flagstones.
Mama's soles were burnt and stinging as she fled home.
Dying flora:
She presented her parents with the crinkled leaves she'd saved as they fell.
Foodstuffs (I didn't bother to consider flavours here - silly me, missed a trick) These are insinuated rather than stated by my word choice. Imagine these textures in your mouth (hardly crunchy):
... fed her from the synthetic mush of proteins... chase withered vegetables...
We all know how heat and cold can give us headaches:
...fusion of chill-filtered air and muggy heat gave the workers migraines.
Alfredo rubs his eyes and digs his fingernails into his palms.
Antiseptic wind(!):
... pushed down by the cool wind and the numbing taste of antiseptic. As he stroked their leaves and felt the sturdiness of their trunks his eyes began to stream.
Cool and wet:
... and wipes her eyes with a cool flannel...
He feels the relaxing string of her muscles...

A simple reference to silence:
He'd wander the city's hushed streets that once had been laden with tourists.
A tell:
... weaned on the scents and textures of geoponics.
Insects and church bells:
The buzz of insects would wake her before the morning haze lifted... or the first bells of morning rang out from the seven hills.
... and the dogs would never stop panting...
... and the swallows were already at play, chirruping over breakfast on the wing.
No amount of wailing could reverse the change.
More bells (this is Rome, I'm trying to evoke):
The church bells continued to ring morning...
Inside the glass-snakes (giant, hermetically sealed greenhouses):
The venting systems always thrummed...
Crying is sight (really), but I believe that if used properly the reader can imagine the sound:
... stood outside her room and listened to her gentle tears.
And breath is always a good one:
Her breathing has become a drawn out rasp...
Not a greenhouse, but a private floral collection this time (a crossover into touch also):
... beneath a gently humming ventilator that expelled great breaths of midwinter chill.
More breath:
She gasps, a long inward breath...

And the first reference to smell is abstracted:
If only their distance was no further than the intake of one breath.
The next is more concrete:
He only ever smelt dirt and dust, the stench of foodstuffs rankled by the Sun.
Come day or night, what wind there was carried only a stench of rot.
Finally, I give the reader some smells to work with (though these are restrictive to those who know the scents). So, they're a little leading:
Rome's breath would scent her room with sweet matthiola and the fragrance of freesias.
More lacking smells, I first relate camphor laurel to the reader, and then (this does require the reader to know what the smell is in the first place for this kind of scent reference to work:
She didn't detect the muted note in its scent.
This is a story about the lack of scent, so it is only in the denouement that I finally relent:
... giddy from his task and the heady excitement of so many fragrances... in great breaths those sweet and spicy smells...

My word! There's no taste! That's a shame... I think I need to focus a little better.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Maximising Impact

The rule of three hadn't occurred to me when writing this piece. Certainly not until I was sitting here typing this analysis of what I'd done with a particular object / symbol.

Mama's hosta is a symbol of life and loss, but in my original writing of the scene with its loss I hadn't developed an introduction for it - that's what initial drafts are for though. We get it down on the page so that we can make the connections and work out a taxonomy of importance. The hosta, I realised, as I had it dying and its leaves falling about the girl, was a key emotional link to how life had been and how it has gone. And I'd wasted it.

In the next draft I split it up so that the introduction of the hosta and Mama's attachment to it was well established and interlaced with some characterisation (page 6):

She took cuttings of the more flourishing plants and potted them for her window box. There also she planted a plaintain lily: a hosta she’d rescued from the unkempt and overgrown grounds at school. She devoted herself to its resurrection and fell in love with the lilac flowers it produced in August. Against the azure heavens their tubular heads reminded her of organ pipes.

When we come back to the hosta, the decay of the flora is already in full swing. I have chosen to build up the tension for Mama as she discovers more and more failing plant life, and tries (and fails) to save them, ending with:

That’s where her parents found her, trembling in the corner. She was stood beneath the overhang of her own window box with the variegated leaves of her favoured hosta tangled in her hair and collected in clumps about her feet.

Finally, I rely on the re-introduction of a hosta at the end of the story. Though I'm not copying that extract here.

Its purpose brings us full circle, and then some. A live hosta for a dying mum, but then it becomes synchronous of her death.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Dialogue Modes

Along with the modes of drama - dramatic mode, scenes, half-scenes - there are three types of dialogue and thought (as detailed by Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction, a guide to narrative craft). It works, really in the same was as the drama modes, in that we have:
  • Direct
  • Indirect
  • Summary
I employed each of these in my Bridport entry, and for once, centred upon indirect and summary over direct - using direct in one place only, for one character. I touched upon this in my reading of Murakami. But let's look at each in respect to my work, and how I employed them from my learning:

With his chores complete Alfredo would sit down with Mama before preparing their evening meal and describe the shapes and colours he’d seen through the gated entrances and barred corridors.
Here we have the summary of dialogue. We don't hear the exact ins and outs or a specific dialogue session between Alfredo and his mother. It's largely irrelevant to the narrative, and the fact that we get the overarching pointers of their discussions (and the feel that they repeat this) is what's important. We don't need to know much more.

Never did a day pass, she‘d told Alfredo with a wan smile, when her hands weren’t thick and dripping with soil.
Much of my dialogue-related prose in this short story is made up of indirect speech. the parts that tell us what is being discussed, in a more specific way than in summary, but without, again, having to go into the machinations of the scene itself. We can flutter over it, picking up the necessary exposition, getting a feel for some characterisation but not an awful lot - we're maintaining pace, and moving swiftly on.

Particularly in this story however, I am using indirect speech to continue the sub-story flashbacks, the expository moments that relate the scientific backdrop to the narrative and to push along the drama. As such the indirect speech is infused with the flashback elements - the telling of a story by a character.


‘Maybe as little as a week.’ The doctor packs his medical bag with a meticulous calmness but refuses to return Alfredo’s eye contact. ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do. The morphine will keep her comfortable and if you stick to the routine I told you, she won’t suffer.’

Alfredo rubs his eyes and digs his fingernails into his palms. Before the end came there had been hospitals and affordable medicines, people to care for the sick and means of making them well again. Now there is morphine and Alfredo.

‘You must call at the mortuary before the body starts to rot,’ says the doctor and he is gone.

Here we have the specific, direct dialogue between two characters. It should be used to show dramatic action, change in a character, conflict, discoveries and decisions. And until now I know that because of my over-reliance on scenic modes I have had an over-reliance on direct dialogue when it's not necessary (no wonder my scenes have seemed overly stretched with not a lot going on).

In this short I save my sole direct dialogue for the doctor who visits Alfredo and his sick mother. I think it strengthens the doctor's words that he is the only one with direct speech. The indifference and his inability to talk about her as a person, just as a body. How many dead and dying does the doctor have to deal with on a daily basis?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Combatting the Dramatic Mode

As mentioned previously, the flying output for my short story became, in the majority, a piece in the dramatic mode.

My initial draft was built up of connected scenes, utilising flashback from the midpoint onwards and wasting a vast amount of time on the relationship between the cop and the young protagonist. There was conflict and a lot of showing in these characters' actions and treatment of each other, but, it didn't shine a light on the story or theme, and, in fact, the story I was supposed to be telling was a little bit lost.

11 pages in, my main (false) narrative came to a stop, not because I was done with it, but because for all of its drama and development - flashback to show why the protagonist had come to make the decision that brought him into conflict with the cop - it didn't explain anything and I needed to ground the work in at least some exposition. At the time I thought after that section would be perfect.

The end didn’t arrive as they had depicted in any one of the Hollywood movies. It didn’t go with a bang and it wasn’t centred solely in America. In fact, by the time Alfredo Giancarlo was born, the end was unalterably established and advancing without much fanfare. It appeared, to those watching from – as yet – unaffected regions, that the billions it had afflicted and displaced and whose deaths it had contributed to were just more of the same: plague, pestilence, famine and the seemingly ubiquitous refugees.

Hollywood was safe long after the Mediterranean had suffered.

It's a contrivance, but it's a better starting block that relates to the story I should have been telling. This, of course, is the dramatic mode. We're not inside a scene, observing the characters' actions. We're outside, building up a picture.

I realised the technique I was using after a couple of pages (fancy that! Me, using a literary technique), and the story began to take a different shape - the necessary one. And here's the key, particularly in respect to the short story form: the tale I was telling was, though grounded in a mother/son relationship, one of sci-fi origins. It has a lengthy backstory that would otherwise have needed to be fleshed out in whole dramatic scenes - but again would have been a different story (imagine The Day After Tomorrow, but without so many weather patterns and a bit more potting).

Again, the backstory is pivotal, but only a partial of the story I wanted to tell. As such, writing in the dramatic mode allowed me to convey feeling and dip in and out of certain moments in these characters' histories, getting right to the punch and the crux of the subject and emotional journey.

Gone was the entire story setup that, I felt, was needed to spur the protagonist into action. Gone was the cop, the bullying, Alfredo's brother. As such I had to show certain things a different way: The characters' poverty and the mother's sickness in particular. What we must observe when writing in the dramatic mode is that showing and telling is still an important concept (inference adds weight to explanation):

It didn’t cost Alfredo a cent to stare.

... I'll be discussing word choice later.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

National Academy of Writing's First Anthology

Available through Amazon, this is the taste of things to come.

A few weeks ago we had an evening of presentations and readings given by a number of NAW students, including myself (unsurprisingly giving a talk on Online Writing Communities and the Litopian Model), which received much acclaim from a number of publishing folk from:

Bloomsbury Director Richard Charkin, author David Lodge, Times Newspaper and Murdoch's News Corporation, and then some.

As part of our yearly roundup of developments some of our luckier members had their work included in our first anthology (lucky for some - sadly I didn't make the grade this year, due to a lack of appropriate offerings). It's pretty chocker anyway, totally rammed with the latest talent about to hit the shelves (once we all get our modules out the way).

So, head on over to Amazon and get yourself a copy of the Anthology.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Getting it Down

So, sat in the moderate coolness of our hotel room - Laura sleeping to the thrum of the air-con - I hunched over my pad of paper and started fashioning the story:
As soon as the door opened, Alfredo came hurtling through it, propelled, with his arms swinging to maintain balance like a cartwheeling clown, by the policeman now following curtly behind. Skidding to a halt against Mama's sideboard so that he had to hug the plant pot - an ancient ceramic urn painted in the Greek style of orange and black as if it were from real antiquity - and stop it from teetering over the edge. Mama would be more than displeased, even more so to see the trouble Alfredo had brought with him. Alfredo glared back at his escort and captor and hoped the young man registered his indignance. It's not like he was the thief.
Worry not, this isn't anywhere near the story narrative that went to Bridport. It does give an idea of my direction.

Anyhoo, I rely solely, in my planning and in my writing, on the scenic narrative. Now, I've mentioned this previously in this post on the dramatic modes. I quoted James N. Frey in the discussion. He discusses the writing of Flaubert's Madam Bovary as an example of dramatic narrative. I have come across this, I realise, with other works, for example Pride and Prejudice (I didn't get on with it one bit).

The dramatic mode, I thought, at the time when I was really settling into my learning of writing, was just a cheap and easy way to do a lot of telling and get away with it (oh, how naive I was, and really rather awful in my own writing).

So it was, that I set to work on my new short story by planning and delving straight into the scenes that show the dramatic purpose and direction and conflict of the story. I can't comprehend how to do it in the dramatic, and as such I can only consider in those muse-fueled early drafts the scenes and how they should work.

- As an aside, anyone want to open up a discussion on how to plan your work from the dramatic mode angle rather than beating out the scenes, let me know.

What I had, therefore, was a lot of gesturing and poncing around by the characters - Alfredo and the cop - as I tried to keep the story interesting, injected bits of exposition that didn't slow the narrative too much, and raised questions. I had:
  • The cop has brought Alfredo home, having caught him up to a nefarious deed
  • The cop wants Alfredo to get his mum, but Alfredo refuses because his mum is sick
  • The cop doesn't believe Alfredo because Alfredo has already lied to him
  • The cop calls to the mum (really, desperately sick) up stairs, and beats Alfredo when he complains
  • Alfredo's brother comes home and wants to know what's happening
  • Flashback: Alfredo watching the Spring bird exodus (there aren't any plants left, thus no bugs). Alfredo and his friend get beaten up by older kids
  • Flashback: Later Alfredo and his friend retaliate, having spied one of the other kids stealing from tourists
  • Flashback: Alfredo gets caught by the cop
None of it related to the story I wanted to tell - it was all set up, or the fleshing out of a far larger narrative, perhaps the film of the short story - and I barely touched on the theme or the direction of the piece.

Theme, at this point: If we take what we covet and what is kept from us, we destroy the thing's beauty and the thing itself.

It was a riff on the the fact that the flora had died off and now only private collectors can afford to keep their own collections alive - but at what price to the poor? But then, if the poor had access the collections would become infected, etc, etc.

In the piece I wrote by hand I managed to fit in two pages of explanation on the situation and how it arose... Two out of eight, and when I came to do the typing, by the third draft, a form of those two pages were all that would be left of the original plan and write-up

Thursday, July 03, 2008


In line with many of the writers' theories I have read, I now get into a state of planning. Gone are the days when I was able to write from the off, and just take my work anywhere, with only a brief guesstimate of where it'll all end.

So it was in Rome, while my wife badgered me to get on and write something. She was so enthused with having completed her finals back in May and actually getting out to Rome to see and touch the things she'd been studying - real history, mind you. These things are at least 2000 years old. Can any of us comprehend that?

So, she gets into this sharing mode, wanting to make sure that I'm not only included but that my inspiration is sparked by what we're seeing - it's nice to have a partner who wants you to succeed in your dreams - but then, of course, she's always saying: "Are you inspired yet?" as if we're on a drive to some destination and I need to be ready by the time we get there!

But, I did get my game on. And here is the spark of my idea that I then toyed with for a day (yes, just a day, the Bridport closed in a week and in our downtime in the hotel I had only pen and paper for extra-curricular activities) before having a play:

What really stood out for me as we traced a path from monument to tourist attraction through the tiny piazzas and the winding streets that stretched high above, were the vast number of open corridors (albeit gated) that led in under these villas and apartments and housed many numbers of statues, busts, faux (probably) antiquities and greenery - perhaps a private founatin in a courtyard.

As we trudged in the heat, always ensuring that we didn't go for too long without a 2 litre bottle of chilled water for fear of fainting or heat exhaustion, I got to thinking about the green places - especially Rome. I'd seen some photos of Rome before, and couldn't remember seeing any of the green gardens and tree'd parks we were now wandering past, with their broad-umbrella branched stone pines and a number of indigenous plant life. I had thought Rome might be devoid of flora altogether (okay, at least a lot), but here we were with bits of verdancy all around and these separate, imprisoned collections that were barred off from the public.

What, I thought, would happen if the world's flora upped and died? As if nature had given up, climate change was too much (a true problem that is currently killing of the equatorial species). I imagined a boy who was poor and who, after this event of dying flora, still lived on the streets of Rome and only saw green life through the barred gateways. Would he appreciate them? Would he want to touch them, to share space with them? Or would he simply get on with his life and have them on the periphery, a nag in his mind but one he can't do anything about?

What then, would happen if his mother lay dying and she'd been there at the time when the end of flora had first come? Her 20 year old memories trouble her, the life she had once led, the loss, and the desolation of living without - it would be unbearable for her. But then, her son might go out of his way to surround her in flora, at whatever cost, to steal it and bring it to her - regardless of whether the stolen plants would die when out of their protective habitats (a sciency set of explanations would be required for much of the plot's construction - such as the distinction between standard flora and crop-flora, where food comes from, how there can be private collections (and why, of course)).

But this was the concept, and the first draft, which I never completed, but ran for over 5,000 words (the Bridport restricts writers to 5,000 words - I've been writing 1,500 for Litopia's competitions for so long, I was worried about having to go the distance) by the time I got it to a place in my own head to be able to start typing it up and considering my stand point (more on this in a later post).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

One Month of Learning

Linking in my outstanding coursework with the recent Bridport Prize entry I submitted just 2 and a bit hours before the deadline, I hope to detail all my learning and how I've come to my present state. What follows is my agenda:
  • To bring the blog back up to speed
  • To meet the requirements of my diary coursework
  • To help in my pedagogic review (again, more coursework)
  • To avoid actually displaying too much of the story I will use in my examples, for fear of it being expunged from the Bridport for "having been already published"
Bring it on!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Done Roming

I have been to dark places and met with the muse of enlightenment in the unlikeliest of places!

The past month, as all months seem to be these days, has been difficult for me - creatively speaking - not least with troubles-at-mill, a weekend in Rome, deadlines and work problems. But, I've got my responsibilities to be getting on with...

As such it was fortunate of my wife to advise that I take some inspiration from our surroundings while in the 33 degree heat of Rome (no breeze, sparse shade and a boiled head). The Bridport Prize ends... er... last night - midnight. Wouldn't it be great if, beside my other two pieces entered, I was able to shake my muse into dropping some tidbits to get on with.

Funny that there's so much religiosity in the City of Rome - the most unspiritual city I've come across (but then, that must come with so many tourists and no one knowing, or caring, what language another person speaks) with no apologies, people reversing, turning, stopping, shooting out of nowhere across your path, without a hint that they might do it. And then there are those wonderful Euro-queue-jumpers. Us Brits just don't cope too well in the mix do we?

At least we felt safe.

Anyhoo, so it was that we were mixing it up a little, with a lot of walking (a lot of walking) and just as much historical consumption as possible. When we got back the number of people asked if we'd been to this church, or that church and then stood a little surprised by our "no" was quite surprising.

We went for history, not religion! St. Peter's was a phenomenal sight that brought Laura to the brink of tears, and after that, why'd you need to go see another church? There's so little reason. Nothing will meet the basilica's splendour (where'd all this money come from? Hmm). No, we didn't even do the Sistine or the Vatican museums. We were there for antiquity - the Colosseum, Pantheon, the Ara Pacis, Palatine Hill, and the Forum.

So, got to get back into that saddle.